VCU Sculpture Professor Earns Prestigious Mitchell Grant

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Corin Hewitt sees himself as a sculptor, though he’s not sure if he’s always viewed by others as one. His brand of art incorporates installation, photography, multimedia and artist participation, and it can be difficult to corral into a category. However, Hewitt recently received a notable imprimatur as a sculptor from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, which named Hewitt one of the recipients of a prestigious $25,000 grant for sculptors.

Hewitt, an assistant professor in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media in the VCU School of the Arts, said the Mitchell grant provides both a welcome financial boost and a validation of his work.

“It’s a very nice compliment to be chosen,” Hewitt said. “Certainly, it’s an affirmation. I see it as a way to keep the work going.”

Amy Hauft, chair of the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media, said the Mitchell grant targets only notable artists who the foundation views as likely to produce long-term, significant contributions in their field.

“It’s a great honor for him,” Hauft said. “One of the top honors that there is for an artist.”

Hewitt views his distinctive work as “sculpture in transition” and a sort of “live sculptural practice.” His recent pieces, in particular, are built on setting up what he calls “cultural questions” in an arranged space and then examining and exploring them in a variety of ways, taking photographs throughout the work.  

A prominent recent example of Hewitt’s work was his installation “Seed Stage” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City from Oct. 2008 to Jan. 2009. Hewitt incorporated sculpting, cooking, heating and cooling, casting, canning, eating and photographing both organic and inorganic materials in a work that the museum said was “part performance art, part live theater and part meditation on ideas about still life.” Museum-goers viewed Hewitt at work from corners of the space.

The work highlighted Hewitt’s approach that “everything is potential material for art,” according to Hauft, and his talent for finding “elegance in the simple.” The piece proved popular with both audiences and critics.

Hewitt’s process derives in part from his interest in how we both live and observe our lives. His projects demonstrate an attempt to “live life while simultaneously trying to understand it as a thing – being both inside and outside of it at the same time.”

Hauft describes Hewitt’s work as propositional. He is perpetually asking questions of the world and his work, and he makes a point of including the viewer in those questions. Hewitt’s process also allows him to keep his work open-ended, meaning it’s not about an ultimate answer.

“I think the moment of finishing a sculpture – of saying it’s done – is a terrifying moment,” Hewitt said. “So I wanted a body of work that I’d never have to finish.”

Hewitt’s open-minded approach is creating a very different relationship between him and his work than he maintained in earlier pieces, when he was more likely to start a piece with a firmer idea of what the finished work would be.

“I’m more present with the work as it develops,” Hewitt said. “I’m paying more attention to what it says, instead of just imposing my ideas on it.”

Hewitt is in his first year as a professor at VCU, and Hauft said he has been an excellent addition to the department. He’s an “amazing teacher,” she said, whose style has an “experimental and generous quality” to it. She said his students from the fall semester are already showing the benefits, producing new and compelling work borne out of his classes.

“We’re excited to have him in the department,” Hauft said.