A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

On Board

Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999), QC #13, 2013, textiles and fabric treated with acrylic and spray paint on archival paper. Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Collection of Dr. Daniel Berger

by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

When it came time to fill an empty seat on SAIC’s Board of Governors, President Massey personally asked Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999) to take on the gig.

The in-demand Biggers could have said no. After all, the artist is busy bouncing between Los Angeles and New York; teaching classes at Columbia University; and creating a multiplatform exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as the recipient of a Joyce Foundation grant and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He also was recently named a TED2016 fellow.

Obviously, Biggers said yes.

“It’s an honor,” says the alum. “And also, it’s not lost on me that not being a native from Chicago, SAIC has entrusted me to help represent. I would definitely like to capitalize on the fact that there are such incredible alums all over the world.”

Massey, who has known Biggers for years, says he is a welcome addition. “I expect him to be a strong proponent of our traditional academic strengths while also encouraging us to continue exploring new modes of art and design practice,” says Massey. “Sanford is also directly engaged with some of the most pressing issues of our day—issues having to do with diversity and the complexities of history and identity. I look forward to working with him to examine how the School, and the art and design world as a whole, can continue to improve in these areas.”

Todd C. Brown, an SAIC Board of Governor member who chairs the Governance Committee, agrees. “It’s important to have somebody of his success and stature as a person students can look to in terms of what he’s been able to achieve in his career,” says Brown. “I think it gives him a unique insight and perspective.”

Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999). Photo: Alex Freundt

As the nation grapples with very difficult conversations about diversity, race, and class, Biggers doesn’t shy away from hard topics, and his pieces push viewers to consider various views of American history.

“I would not say that all artists have a certain responsibility, but I would say that all artists have an opportunity to discuss and bring issues, challenging themes, and ideas across in their work and open a platform for their dialogues,” Biggers says. “It could be great to get people talking.”

Such discussions are sure to result from Biggers’ current collaboration with Detroit’s modern art museum for the upcoming exhibit Subjective Cosmology. Slated to open in September 2016, the exhibition will provide a look at the various ways in which Detroit’s bones are not dead and buried, but poised for a regrowth and reboot.

Along with performances from Biggers’ music group Moon Medicin, the exhibit space will tap into Detroit history, culture, and swag. After all, the roots of electronic dance music and Motown are in Detroit. Local groups will also participate.

“There will be some sculpture and paintings, too, that deal with a lot of the history of the United States,” says Biggers. “It’ll also be exploring with technology, and maybe augmented reality…so that the performance can still stay in exhibition once the actual performances are gone.”

Biggers goes on, “Detroit actually seems very vital to me. When people say it’s dying, that’s looking at the wrong side of the coin. Detroit is almost like a new frontier. It is more the zeitgeist of a place like Detroit. It’s full of potential…. It’s very subjective cosmology.”