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A respected artist, known the world over, teaching our students

Chancellor’s Professor Klamen has artworks in the permanent collections of major museums across the country

Friday Jun 27, 2014


The fact that David Klamen is a well-known, highly sought-after artist displaying works in some of the most prestigious galleries and museums in the country, is nothing new. The Indiana University Northwest Chancellor’s Professor of Fine Arts and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences has had hundreds of paintings in galleries and museums across the county for many years.

However, from a local perspective, more noteworthy than Klamen’s impressive portfolio is that this artist is our artist. While Klamen’s fame is nothing new, its significance for IU Northwest increases with each new piece and exhibit. The story that endures for IU Northwest is Klamen’s journey to notoriety in the art world, a look into his artistic exploration, and perhaps most interesting, that he remains at IU Northwest and teaches our students, whom he says are as good as any of the best art students anywhere.

There are, of course, always new accomplishments to tout. Klamen’s 20-plus years of exhibiting in Chicago’s Richard Gray Gallery, as one example, brings continual benefits, the latest of which is international recognition. Exhibiting at Art Basel in Hong Kong, which displayed Klamen’s work last month, is not an honor an individual artist can solicit. Rather, the most prestigious galleries in the world use their artists to earn them a place at these international art fairs. Thanks to the Richard Gray Gallery, Klamen was again on display with some of the world’s most respected artists.

“These are events where about 150 to 250 of the most important galleries in the world compete to get a spot in a large exhibition,” Klamen said. “These galleries each select the work they would like to show in their space. It is very competitive to get in the galleries and competitive for the galleries to get into these art fairs.”

Though his actual portfolio is pages long, some of the most notable places that Klamen has his work include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea.

Discovering himself

Having grown up in a small rural community near Dixon, Ill., Klamen said he wasn’t really exposed to a wider cultural world or the arts. Rather, he was simply interested in “making objects and drawing, and just interested in the aesthetics of everything.”

It wasn’t until he began college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that he began to more seriously focus on the arts while also studying science and philosophy. Biomedical communication was an early interest, and Klamen had completed most of the pre-med program while remaining immersed simultaneously in philosophy and art throughout the pursuit of his undergraduate degree.

Offered a full scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Klamen continued his graduate education there. By the time he graduated, his work had a substantial following and within a year, he had a waiting list of collectors for his work who have remained loyal ever since.

‘How do we know what we know?’

Listening to Klamen talk about what inspires his work, how he develops his ideas and what he learns in the process has a way of making the visual experience of viewing his work even more compelling.

Klamen said that he uses his art to loosely explore visual answers to the question, “how do we know what we know?”

“Over the past 15 years or so, I have focused on different strategies for answering that question . . . And I make artworks to explore these and test them for their veracity and metaphorical capacity to see what I learn from them. Because of this, my works often look very different from one to the next.  Some of my exhibitions may superficially look like group shows but once you understand the ideas they are exploring, it becomes more clear,” he explained.

“I will often take two seemingly incompatible points of view and overlap them into one work. Like the large works I have on campus that are a mixture of purely optical stripes that are almost barcode-like fused with old master paintings that are a combination of contemporary cultural code with a master work that is a rich, historical tradition from the past. Most of them overlap seemingly incompatible ways of understanding things,” he continued.

“There is almost an endless supply of things I want to continue exploring,” he said. “I trust my eyes and instincts. If something seems compelling for reasons that I can’t quite justify, I still explore it and go after it and see what I learn from it. I didn’t think I’ll ever find myself standing in my studio, wondering what to do next.”

Students are the real winners

With an artist’s portfolio and academic accomplishments that could feasibly take him anywhere, Klamen has chosen to remain at IU Northwest, where he has been teaching for the past 28 years.

“I really appreciate the complexity of our students,” he said. “They aren’t a group that fits one expected identification. My students are a fascinating and wonderful group of people to work with.”

Klamen noted that fine arts students at IU Northwest have opportunities unlike those at most Indiana schools. Proximity to Chicago not only means opportunities to get in front of artists and to view works at prestigious Chicago galleries, but IU Northwest’s faculty can draw from that same pool as well.

Hence, IU Northwest students have just as good a chance of one day gaining an equivalent level of notoriety as Klamen.

As a well-rounded academician, himself earning a bachelor’s degree and exploring many fields before his formal art education, Klamen has some helpful advice for students.

“Pay attention to the whole baccalaureate program because while learning the visual aspect of the arts is an important thing, having a complex and thoughtful, well-rounded education increases the likelihood that you will have interesting things to express and explore with your work,” he said. “Sometimes people naively complain about general education requirements and wonder, ‘Why do I need to take a science lab?’ I think the experience of doing those things opens not only cognitive abilities but also areas of interest that can feed somebody’s potential to make interesting artwork.”

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