Warhol Foundation grant supports MOCA Jacksonville’s Atrium project

marcelle poldenik
The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville’s Haskell Atrium Gallery is only limited by an artist’s vision.

This year, the gallery was transported to space for an interstellar display featuring an inflatable replica of the moon before morphing into a massive, cathedral-like stage that was the focal point of an interactive videogame.

The gallery has become a major draw for artists from across the country, and one of the most well-respected names in the art world has taken notice.

MOCA Jacksonville, a cultural resource of the University of North Florida, was awarded a $75,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for the next two years to support MOCA’s acclaimed Project Atrium series. It was the only museum in the southeast to receive such a grant.

Dr. Marcelle Polednik, director of MOCA Jacksonville, said the Warhol Foundation is the preeminent agency supporting contemporary art in the United States. The fact that MOCA Jacksonville was chosen for a Warhol grant provides a much-sought level of validation for MOCA’s artistic offerings.

Polednik, who became director in early-2011, made Project Atrium a lynchpin of her museum redesign. The Haskell Gallery, the setting for each Project Atrium installation, is a 40-feet high, head-turning piece of architectural space that is visible from every gallery level in the museum. Polednik proposed the Project Atrium series as a way to utilize the full scope of the facility. Every few months, a hand-selected artist will install a new site-specific and site-sensitive installation, which have ranged from massive murals and huge sculptures to interactive displays.

“We’ve focused Project Atrium on emerging and mid-career artists and given them the space and the tools to attract an entirely new audience,” Polednik said. “We’ve only been interested in exhibitions that allow artists to challenge themselves and the audience. It’s a collaborative process between that artist and the space that pushes them to explore their own architectural awareness. It’s a different kind of approach to contemporary art, and it’s a particular initiative that appealed to the Warhol Foundation.”

The primary focus of the Warhol Foundation’s grant- activity has been to support the creation, presentation and documentation of contemporary visual art, particularly work that is experimental, under-recognized or challenging in nature, said Rachel Bers, program director. She said the Foundation typically supports programs or exhibitions that enhance the career development of artists or expands their work to different audiences, which is exactly why MOCA Jacksonville and Project Atrium stood out to grant reviewers. She said the Foundation usually receives around 250 applicants every year and only funds about 40 of them.

“The Atrium project fit squarely within our priorities for awarding grants,” Bers said. “Because of the space, artists are given a truly unique space to work in that they normally don't have — a large and largely public space. The visibility is invaluable to early-career or less well-known artists.”

Each Project Atrium artist has two weeks prior to each opening to prepare their work, and the public is invited to witness the creative process unfold. Artists also offer public lectures the opening Saturday afternoons of their exhibitions. Previous exhibitions have presented the works of national artists Melanie Pullen, Gustavo Godoy, Mark Licari, Tristin Lowe and Ian Bogost.

Polednik said the Foundation funding will grant MOCA the financial stability to reach out to even more artists from across the globe who specialize in site-specific works. She said booking Atrium artists is an involved process, in that each work of art is effective a commissioned piece. The Warhol gift, which is allotted through a two-year funding stream, will help stabilize the artist booking process and cover everything from artist fees to materials and staffing.

“This grant builds sustainability for MOCA and allows us to plan more effectively,” she said. “Because of the scale and scope, sometimes it takes two years to plan for these. And thanks to the Foundation, we’re free to focus solely on the quality of the work. It’s incredibly important, not just as a measure of financial support of the museum, but as an acknowledgement that the museum’s work in the world of contemporary art has much significance. That can’t be purchased.”