Mel Chin was born in Houston, Texas in 1951. Chin’s art, which is both analytical and poetic, evades easy classification. He is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork, and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that has been a pioneer in the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. These projects are consistent with a conceptual philosophy, which emphasizes the practice of art to include sculpting and bridging the natural and social ecology.
Chin is well known for his iconic sculpture, works that often address the importance of memory and collective identity. Such work fuses formal aesthetics with political critique and lamentation. Chin also insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. Chin’s socially engaged projects also challenge the idea of the artist as the exclusive creative force behind an artwork. “Sometimes, the survival of my own idea may not be as important as a condition I might create for others’ ideas to be realized,” says Chin, who often enlists entire neighborhoods or groups of students in creative partnerships. From 1995-1998 he formed the collective the GALA Committee that produced In the Name of the Place, a conceptual public art project conducted on American prime-time television. In KNOWMAD, Chin worked with software engineers to create a video game based on rug patterns of nomadic people facing cultural disappearance. Chin also promotes “works of art” that have the ultimate effect of benefiting science, as in Revival Field, and also in the recent Fundred Dollar Bill/Operation Paydirt Project, an attempt to make New Orleans a lead-safe city ( www.fundred.org)
Chin’s work was documented in the popular PBS program, Art of the 21st Century. His proposal for a New World Trade Center was part of the American representation at the 2002 Venice Biennale of Architecture. A major one-person exhibition, Do Not Ask Me, was seen at the Station Museum, Houston Texas in 2006 (forthcoming catalogue to be published by Station Museum, distribution by D.A.P.) His film, a hand drawn 24-minute joint Chilean/ USA Production, 9-11/9-11, won the prestigious Pedro Sienna Award, Best Animation, National Council for the Arts and Cultures, Chile, in 2007. He has just been awarded the Fritschy Culture Award 2010 and a finalist in International Award for Participatory Art in Bologna, Italy.
Chin received a B.A. from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1975. With numerous awards and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, Art Matters, Creative Capital, and the Penny McCall, Pollock/Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Rockefeller and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundations, Chin has created many commissions, public art installations and one-person exhibitions around the world. Venues for solo exhibits have included: Storefront for Art and Architecture, NYC; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Menil Collection, Houston; and the Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia.
Projects and public commissions have been installed at diverse sites such as New York City’s Central Park, Pig’s Eye Landfill in St. Paul, Floriadepark in rural Netherlands, Eco Tec International in Corsica, the San Jose Public/State University Library, San Jose, CA; Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival; New York Times Magazine, West Queens High School, Queens, NY, the City of Corpus Christi, TX and the St. Roch neighborhood, New Orleans, LA. Group show venues have included: Fifth Biennial of Havana, Cuba; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain; Kuntsmuseum, Bonn, Germany; Kwangju Biennale, Korea; Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.; Museum Of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, P.S. 1, and Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Chin has been awarded three Honorary Doctorates from RISD, Providence, Rhode Island MICA, Baltimore, MD and Green Mountain College, Poultney, VT.
Portland State University’s Art Department offers free public lectures every Monday night of the school year. The PSU MFA Monday Night Lecture Series is supported in part by PICA, Portland Center for Public Humanities, Wealth Underground Farm, Bear Deluxe Magazine, and Northwest Film Center. If you or your organization are interested in becoming a supporter of the lecture series please let us know.