Cranbrook Taps New Director, from Long Beach via London

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Christopher Scoates, director of the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach since 2005, has left the Southland to take up a new post as director at the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan (whose L.A.-based alumni included L.A.’s Charles and Ray Eames and Gere Kavanaugh). The British-born Scoates studied there himself, acquiring a Master of Fine Arts in Photography.

Scoates, who co-curated while at Long Beach a well-regarded survey of work by artist Michael Goldberg, has long blended his interest in the visual arts with that of music; recent projects include a book about Radiohead lighting designer Andi Watson; he also brought to Long Beach the late, great Lou Reed and, in 2009, music pioneer Brian Eno. Following an exhibit and lecture by Eno, Scoates published the book Brian Eno: Visual Music (reviewed here).

DnA asked Chris (shown right in the Long Beach Post) about departing the Southland for Cranbrook.

DnA: First off, how do you feel about leaving Long Beach for Cranbrook?

CS: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my tenure at California State University, Long Beach. It has been a productive and meaningful period in my creative life but the opportunity to lead such a renowned institution as Cranbrook is too exciting to resist. I look forward to forging a future that builds upon the international reputation and history of innovation that has made Cranbrook one of the world’s leading centers for artistic excellence. I strongly believe in the commitment to new art and new ideas and will encourage debate, exchange and collaboration within and beyond the Cranbrook campus.

DnA: Do the doldrums facing Detroit and Michigan these days impact Cranbrook or is it maintaining its vibrancy?

CS: Cranbrook consistently ranks as one of the top 10 fine art graduate programs in the country and I will play a leadership role in connecting Cranbrook to a larger national and global community. Enrollment at the Academy is at a near all-time high. In addition, the Academy remains, per capita, the highest producer of student Fulbright scholars in the United States. The Academy also continues to be named one of the Fulbright program’s “Top Producing Institutions” by the Institute for International Education.

DnA: Reed Kroloff, your predecessor, came from an architecture and design background. With your art and culture criticism background, do you plan a different emphasis?

CS: Architecture is but one of ten studio practices at Cranbrook, and it has always been my philosophy to provide a more expansive approach to the arts so that we engage contemporary cultural expression in a larger context, rather than isolated in the narrow silos of conventional genres— demonstrating that the arts have a vitality and relevance beyond a static object on the wall, within what can be a cloistered setting isolated from the outside world.

To that end, I have always developed a broader constellation of programming opportunities that encompass the full artistic spectrum, motivated as well by my interest in fusing the arts with emergent media, experimental sound, and digital art research and production. In 2007, I co-founded (with Alex McDowell) 5D: The Immersive Design Conference, which examined how digital technologies are blurring the boundaries between passive and interactive experiences. Two years ago at Cal State Long Beach, we premiered Lou Reed’s audio installation of Metal Machine Trio which was based upon his 1975 ground-breaking album Metal Machine Music, and was one of many programs of this type at the University Art Museum.

I’m open to a diverse range of views, voices and perspectives, and look forward to developing new partnerships and audiences at Cranbrook that would benefit both the academic and museum program.

DnA: But how will you handle the Michigan weather?

CS: Just like the glam era, I see the awful weather of Michigan as just another fashion opportunity.


DnA: Which brings us Brian Eno and your book, Brian Eno: Visual Music. What inspired the project? Have you known Eno for many years?

CS: I’ve known Eno’s music, writings, and art for years, but we didn’t actually work together until I initiated an exhibition with him at Cal State Long Beach in 2009. His work is of particular interest to me for its convergence and blending of disciplines, media, and content. He has never looked to the traditional art establishment for answers or approval but has instead turned to a wider set of philosophical experiences, questions, and concerns to build upon his thinking and working methodology. He is part of a rich history of contemporary artists, writers, and thinkers whose ideas add to the discourse on sensory perception and whose work expands our experiences of visual and auditory stimuli.

I’m drawn to Eno’s work because he refutes a traditional object-subject dialectic in favor of an experiential condition. He says: “Art is a transaction between somebody and something rather than a quality of an object. When we engage in this transaction we let down certain psychic defenses, allow ourselves to become part to something that we don’t completely understand—an emotional power or an intellectual power that we lose ourselves in.”

DnA: Were you a glam rocker like him?

I grew up in the UK at the peak of glam rock. What young Brit during that time wasn’t somehow influenced in some way by Bowie or Eno? From Ziggy Stardust to Ladytron, it was an exciting time to be teenager!

DnA: Bennett Stein’s essay about the book suggests that Eno has an architectural sensibility. Do you agree?

CS: While a number of prominent British musicians—from Roger Waters and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd to Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys—studied architecture in their youth, I think it is impossible to locate Eno within such a narrowly prescribed sensibility. In trying to discuss or write about Eno’s career, I would like to offer up this analysis by his first teacher, Roy Ascott, who wrote,

Any attempt to locate Eno’s work within an historical framework calls for a triple triangulation, whose trig points in the English tradition would seem to be Turner/Elgar/William Blake; in Europe, Matisse/Satie/Bergson, and in the USA Rothko/LaMonte Young/Rorty. This triple triangulation will quickly be seen as insufficient, however, since those based on Asian and Middle Eastern cultures will also be required. Soon it would become apparent that a precise or consistent location cannot be determined, except by the abandonment of triangulation in favour of a dynamic network model.”