2012 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship

By The Smithsonian Museum
Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, 2012

The Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship offers visual artists
the opportunity to spend several months working with Smithsonian
collections and scholars. The SARF program is unique among artist
residency programs, offering, instead of a studio, a dynamic research
environment in which to investigate the objects, discoveries, and
historical events that inspire creative work. There is no comparable
fellowship program in the United States. A panel of SI art experts
chooses SARF fellows with input from representatives from the SI
history, culture, and science research communities. The program brings
artists together with Smithsonian scholars from a variety of disciplines
at museums and research centers in the United States and abroad to
explore cross-disciplinary connections between history, art, culture, and
science. Steven Montgomery will be working with the National Air And
Space Museum in Washington DC.

STEVEN MONTGOMERY
SMITHSONIAN ARTISTS RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP / 2012

A LANGUAGE OF AGGRESSION: A STUDY OF THE AESTHETICS OF MILITARY
AIRCRAFT

My interest in industrial imagery is almost completely aesthetic, as I have no
practical experience in any of the technical fields from which my work is derived.
It has been through my understanding of the ceramic medium and it’s inherent
limitlessness that I have been able to invent my own fictitious technology to suit my
sculptural needs.

Over the course of my career I have been able to derive great inspiration from such
sites as the New York City subway with it’s waterfalls of rust and soot, vast networks
of electrical cables and conduit, and great columnar monuments to the golden
age of rivets. The decline of my native Detroit and it’s once mighty automotive
manufacturing base would seem an obvious influence on my work as would other
rust-belt realities and flourishing urban detritus. Institutions such as the Henry Ford

Museum afforded me my first glimpse of the lineage of V-8 engines that helped
define an automotive era. My perception of the proportions of the V-8’s engine block
led directly to the production of a series of “motor” related sculptures that I have
developed over the last 15 years.

At this time I need my art to evolve from a fictitious and frequently amorphous
approach to an emphasis on a hyper-real, historical and a possibly political
approach. A shift such as this would allow a new degree of accessibility to my work
that could not be achieved in any other way. While vast amounts of information
on engines, military aircraft, armaments or any technology can be easily accessed
via the Internet, there is no substitute, particularly for a sculptor, for the visceral
experience that can only be gleaned from an in depth exploration and study of
objects that can be seen, and, if possible, touched at close range. An informed
understanding of those objects is only available from curators, historians, and
restoration experts.

Serial numbers, national markings, striping, camouflage and enumerable emblems
are just some of the graphic markings on military and commercial aircraft that
are used for communicating information. Nose cones, air intakes, propellers or
the shape of a fuselage or wing may have specific aerodynamic and ergonomic
functions but are frequently enhanced with color, graphics and other icons that are
also intended to communicate. While the mere scale and beauty of any military
aircraft in a museums collection is enough to inspire and excite, it is, of course,
impossible to ignore their aggressive, violent intent and historical implications. The
Curtiss P-40 “Flying Tiger,” an iconic American aircraft from WW2 is decorated with
a cartoonlike depiction of a snarling, animal mouth, along the side of its engine air-
intake, that defines it’s national identity and boasts of its capability. Aside from an
almost comedic appeal, it is also poignantly aggressive and could be construed as
grossly condescending, much like the way one could interpret the phrase “Shock
and Awe.” It would be my intention to observe, document, photograph and measure
details such as the “tiger” mouth on the Curtiss P-40. My observation/investigation
would also include components as large as a two-ton turbofan or as small as a
cockpit hinge.

It is well within my skill set to construct a full-scale ceramic facsimile of, for example,
the Enola Gay. My goal is, however, to acquire technical and visual data, not to
replicate whole aircraft. Aside from its catastrophic historical significance, the Enola
Gay’s serial number alone provides it with its own unique identity and separates
it from other B-29 long-range bombers of it’s era. A small section of its riveted
fuselage or portions of its propeller constitute the possibility of a painted sculpture

wonderland with significant three, and two-dimensional dynamism. The geometric
patterning of the painted camouflage on the Albatross D. Va, for instance, is almost
decorative in itgs relationship to fabric design but in no way belies the malignant
intent of the aircraft itself. This duality of beauty, color, form and ultimate function
are the basis of my interest in working with NASM, NMAH or any other Smithsonian
Institution that could provide relevant resources.

My research would be conducted primarily through photography and, when possible,
interviews with museum curators, restoration and other museum staff. I would desire
close access, within inches, of any given aircraft, engine or artifact for inspection
and photography. Photo documentation and interviews would be conducted via the
use of an I Pad 3, recorded only for archival purposes and would not be used for
commercial reproduction in any manner. In the event that objects are unavailable
for close observation due to physical, restoration or archival limitations, alternatives
such as mechanical drawings, schematics, elevations or other documentation would
be acceptable.

I have contacted curators at both the National Air and Space Museum and the
National Museum of American History, many of who have agreed to support my
potential participation in the SARF program:

Jane Milosch: Director, Provenance Research Initiative
Margaret Weitekamp: Ph.D, Curator, Division of Space History, NASM
Jeremy R. Kinney, Curator, Aero Propulsion, NASM
Peter L. Jacob: Associate Director for Collections and Curatorial Affairs and Curator
of Early Flight, World War 1 and Vietnam War Aviation, NASM
Dik Dasso: Curator, Modern Military Aircraft, NASM
Tom D. Crouch: Senior Curator, Lighter-Than-Air, Early Flight and Art, NASM
Jennifer L. Jones: Curator of Military History, NMAH
Bonnie Lilienfeld: Deputy Chair, Division of Home and Community Life, NMAH

There are, understandably, innumerable objects from the collection of NASM and
other Smithsonian branches that fit my criteria or have implications that have piqued
my interest. They include:

Albatros D.Va

Inventory number: A19500092000

Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless

Inventory number: A19610109000

Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG 21F-13 FISHBED-C

Inventory number: A19930354000

Mitsubishi A6M5 Reisen (Zero Fighter) Model 52 ZEKE

Inventory number: A19600335000

North American P-51D-30-NA

Inventory number: A19600300000

Propeller / Spinner Nose Cone, Spirit of St. Louis, C.A. Lindbergh, NY-Paris

Inventory number: A19890217000

V-2 Missile

Inventory number: A19600342000

Bell UH-1H Iroquois "Huey" Smokey III

Inventory number: A19960005000

Katydid Drone

Inventory number: A19660162000

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Inventory number: A19860004000

Sidewinder Missile

Inventory number: A20030007000

Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay"

Inventory number: A19500100000

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk (Kittyhawk IA)

Inventory number: A19650242000

It would be my intention to translate those aspects of my research that I find
essential, into art. It is conceivable that the smallest aspect of what I discover could

result in an unlimited output that could supersede the breadth of my research. The
cumulative creative result of my participation in the SARF program would determine
the course of my career. It would enable me to make the transition to an art that is
based on fact and history. The prospect of this makes my request for support not
only tantalizing, but a career imperative.