Joey Orr (Curator for Research, MAVCS 2008)

Visual and Critical Studies
Joey Orr Headshot


Describe your path since graduating from SAIC, and what you're doing today.

After getting my MA in Visual and Critical Studies, I taught as an adjunct for a year while I applied to jobs and a PhD program, as I was unsure which would best serve me. I was accepted into an interdisciplinary doctoral program with full funding at Emory University, so continued on to a terminal degree. Since I am interested in the intersection of art production and research, having an MA from an art school and a PhD from a research university has been useful. In the years between my PhD and my current job, I worked for one year as a visiting assistant professor of contemporary art history at the University of Memphis and for about two years as a postdoctoral curatorial fellow back in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

I currently serve as the Andrew W. Mellon Curator for Research at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, where I direct the Integrated Arts Research Initiative and serve as affiliate faculty in the Museum Studies program and the Visual Art department. The initiative I run is an experiment that engages researchers across the sciences and humanities along with artists in hybrid, transdisciplinary inquiries.

Describe how VCS has impacted where you are today.

When I was first applying to graduate schools, I thought I would be in an art history department. Once I started to research programs, however, I felt most of the departments I looked at were too conservative to support my interests. The possibility of developing my creative practice in conjunction with my research was an opportunity that I did not find in other programs. My job as curator for research is a textbook position for someone with such training, and I take its existence as a good sign for the field of artistic research in the U.S.

What is the most memorable experience you have from your time in VCS? 

My partner and I always hosted a get together for my cohort at our place before classes started each semester. I think all groups that go through the program are different, but we discussed our work together throughout the two years. There were ups and downs, of course, but I always really enjoyed the camaraderie of those get togethers. Also, whenever I had a little time after class, but not enough time to get any real studying done, I always ran across the street to the Art Institute and would spend 10-30 minutes looking through the exhibitions and collections. It’s one of the great perks of study at SAIC.

Describe what VCS students might expect from the program.

You should have a high threshold for ambiguity and exploration as a graduate student in VCS. I think the program might be more challenging for students who have not had the opportunity to work through some of their own interests, yet. There are so many possible directions to take in such a program that the ability to be confident and to find or build a foundation for your practice in a two-year period can be challenging. On the other hand, if you can navigate the radical openness of experimentation in a space of shifting resources, you have the chance to explore hybrid practices in ways that are not supported in most other graduate, academic programs.

What do you wish you had known when you were still in VCS?

When I was a student in VCS, I was often frustrated by the institutional limitations that existed for experimental work. When I was doing creative work, I felt I had to prove I knew my theory. When I was doing historical or theoretical work, I felt I had to prove the acuity of my practice. In short, I always felt I was having to do twice as much work as many of my peers in other programs or at other schools and universities. When I graduated and moved onto a doctoral program and other jobs, however, I was able to hold my own in both academic and artistic discourse. I noticed that many other people doing hybrid, inter- or transdisciplinary work are often challenged to speak beyond one mode of inquiry. What I experienced as frustration as a student in VCS turned out to be one of my strongest assets working in the field.


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