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One in a thousand: ASU art professor selected for national 'best of' show

Artist Angela Ellsworth is an associate professor in the intermedia program in the ASU School of Art, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Ellsworth explains intermedia as hybrid art practices or interdisciplinary art practices.

“In our area,” she says, “we have work in media, digital sculpture, we have video. I’m teaching performance art, there’s social practice. It’s an area that really speaks to contemporary art practices across the nation.”

Ellsworth is also one of about 100 American artists hand-picked for the show “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas, through Jan. 19, 2015.

To produce the exhibition, Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood spent months traveling more than 100,000 miles around the continental U.S. Their goal was to show the best of what was happening in American contemporary art.

In all, they visited almost 1,000 artists’ studios, and then picked their top 100 artists for the show.

“It’s a really diverse cross section of contemporary artists working today in the United States,” Ellsworth says. “I’m very honored.”

The exhibition includes two sculptural pieces by Ellsworth: a new piece called “Close to You,” which consists of two pioneer bonnets covered in pearl corsage pins, and one single bonnet covered in pins.

Of the two bonnets, she says, “they’re being very close. I see them as in intimate positions.”

The single bonnet is one of dozens she’s creating to stand in for the many wives of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church.

“Although I’m not a practicing Mormon now, I’m very interested in that history,” Ellsworth explains. “I’m interested in, specifically, polygamy – the practice of polygamy and how that connects to queer culture and non-hetero normative relationships, now that states seem to be struggling over gay marriage specifically.”

And within what Ellsworth describes as “that very patriarchal construct,” she is interested in reimagining “a group of the women and creating their own sort of community in a sense.”

Ellsworth says that the “remarkable landscape” surrounding the School of Art is “a real draw” for faculty and students, as is the region’s rich history. The desert informs her work, as does her teaching.

“I feel like I learn [from students] about contemporary culture and the way other generations are functioning and dealing with media and social media. We talk about that in classes: What does it mean to be an artist, and what’s the responsibility of being an artist? “

Ellsworth says she’s aware that some of the students she teaches won’t go on to be professional artists.

“So there has to be something that the student can take away that might not just be how to make a painting or how to make a performance,” she says. “There are life skills that include problem solving, troubleshooting and basically being critical thinkers.

“One can use critical thinking no matter what career we go into.”

deborah.sussman@asu.edu