Jade Dellinger Asks History Detectives: Did Art By Andy Warhol And His Buds Land In Tampa?

When Jade Dellinger, a Tampa-based independent curator and author, talks about the numerous exhibitions and projects he's been a part of through the years, one thing becomes abundantly clear: He has a knack for remembering details. Dates, places, documents and artists are withdrawn from memory so quickly you would think there was an art history book implanted in his brain.

This innate gift and a curiosity for knowledge has likely been the catalyst for Dellinger's extended research projects -- which include the recreation of fulgurites (glass objects created by natural lightning) for a Museum of Science and Industry exhibition with Allan McCollum in 1998 and the facilitation of intimate collaborations between sculptor Keith Edmier and icons like Farah Fawcett and Evel Knievel. It also led to an ongoing fascination with a project that first came to his attention three years ago: The Moon Museum.

The Moon Museum was a somewhat covert operation by six artists to place a tiny 9/16 x 3/4 x 1/32 inch ceramic tile displaying their work on the Moon via the landing module of Apollo 12 in 1969.

The artists? Andy Warhol, Forrest Myers, Claes Oldenburg, John Chamberlain, David Novros and Robert Rauschenburg.

Through sleuthing and a bit of happenstance, Dellinger stumbled upon a rare copy of the art on an online auction that belonged to the family of an engineer who worked on the project. He immediately wrote an impassioned note to the seller.

"I thought this was far too important to come up for sale on eBay," he says. "That such major artists almost certainly, although surreptitiously, succeeded in sending their work to the Moon on this postage-stamp sized multiple is astounding."

His procuration of the legendary art piece has resulted in an upcoming appearance on PBS' "History Detectives," a visit to Tampa by two of the "detectives'' in a fundraiser for Tampa Bay's PBS station WEDU and an exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Art from June 18-Aug. 1.

Salivating Over Modern Art

Margaret Miller, director of USF's Contemporary Art Museum and Graphicstudio, believes Dellinger, her longtime collaborator, is precisely the person to head up such a research project.

"It's almost this uncanny ability to find leads," she says. "He finds these threads that bring a portrait of an era together, and connects and informs artists with detailed information about something he noted in their work."

The names of past collaborators that Dellinger shares off the top of his head would make any contemporary art enthusiast salivate -- Atelier van Lieshout, David Byrne, The Art Guys. It's immediately apparent he has an undeniable passion for art -- something he's been known for all his life.

"As a young student [Jade] would track down major artists, like Robert Motherwell and Robert Rauschenburg, and ask them about their experience working with different printers and workshops," says Miller.

Dellinger's experiences interviewing artists would serve as adequate preparation for his future in the art world. He has interviewed everyone from A.A Rucci to Mark Mothersbaugh on his experience as a founding member of experimental 80s New Wave group DEVO in the biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! co-authored with David Giffels.

Miller, a University of South Florida graduate herself and director only of the Contemporary Art Museum at the time, recalls being immediately impressed by Dellinger's eagerness to learn. The two were introduced at USF when she received a call across campus about a bright young student interested in working at Graphicstudio.

"They couldn't take him at Graphicstudio, so they asked if I would as a directed studies student," she says.

And she did. Dellinger, who was born in Japan while his American parents taught English there, spent his summer enthusiastically pouring over the Contemporary Art Museum's collection of nearly 5,000 undocumented works. Miller recalls many occasions when he would pop into her office to tell her about his latest discovery in the collection and how it could fit into an exhibition the studio was working on at the time.

He was so enthralled with the summer program that he decided to transfer from the University of Florida to finish his undergraduate degree in Art History at USF.

Taking Tampa To New York

Upon graduation, Dellinger decided to move to New York.

"That was my point of entry into the art world," Dellinger said.

He earned a graduate degree in Arts Administration from New York University and began working at the Whitney Museum of American Art. For the next 10 years he was appointed the director of various galleries, hosted a Japanese television program on contemporary art, wrote articles for Flash Art international magazine and did independent curatorial work in renegade spaces.

Miller used her connections with Dellinger to take USF students to New York to meet interesting artists like sculptor Keith Edmier.

The meetings sparked a year-long series of interventions at the Contemporary Art Museum that fused the connections Dellinger made in New York with the studio that gave him his start in Tampa.

"The artists I worked with were at the point in their careers where first museum exhibitions made sense," he says. Among those artists was Edmier, one of the many emerging artists Dellinger and Miller introduced to Tampa in the 90s.

Another project showcasing emerging artists was titled "Use as Directed" and began in November of 1995 with the first U.S museum show for Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan.

"Jade was always a little bit ahead of everybody," Miller explains.

That's not to say he never took a cue from great ideas internationally. Miller recalls a trip she took with Dellinger to Vienna where they learned of a public art program called the Museum In Progress. The project commissioned artists to create work in public spaces like billboards and newspapers.

"We came back here and said, "We gotta do something like that in Tampa,'" Miller says.

So they did. Miller convinced Michael Kilgore, then at The Tampa Tribune, to give them $90,000 of ad space.

The project, "12 Months: Art in the News," found its home on the back page of the Baylife section from January to December 1999. Every month featured a new artist -- starting with William Wegman and ending with Mothersbaugh.

"We'd have the artist design a page and then a week later they'd come to Tampa and give a lecture at USF or Tampa Museum of Art, show a film, do a performance -- something public so the people could meet the artist," Dellinger explained.

The series was a hit and taken into the collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

Bringing New York Back To Tampa

On the heels of the project's success, Dellinger realized that most of his work was happening in the Tampa Bay region and decided to move back to Tampa in 2000.

"There are great advantages to being in Tampa," he says. "You have institutions that are very open to doing projects that have a kind of international importance."

Dellinger even found a way to incorporate a Tampa Bay Area exhibition with the work of Brazilian artist Janaina Tschape.

After a series of discussions about Hernando County's Weeki Wachee Springs theme park, ocean mythology and mermaids, the idea for "Blood, Sea," Tschape's first U.S solo work, was born. Tschape created elaborate costumes, hired the performers from the theme park as models and enlisted a crew of National Geographic photographers for a series of pictures and a high-definition video installation.

That exhibition went on display at the Contemporary Art Museum and traveled to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and galleries in Belgium, Brazil and Japan.

"A lot of my projects are about bringing artists to utilize what we have here that's unique," says Dellinger.

As for The Moon Museum, it's already been shown in France and at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Here in Tampa, Dellinger and Tampa Museum of Art Director Todd Smith are offering the chance to view the exhibit at TMA from June 18 to Aug. 1.

And WEDU is hosting a fundraiser on June 17 at the Tampa Bay History Center featuring Gwendolyn Wright and Tukufu Zuberi, two of the "History Detectives'' who helped research Dellinger's find.

To see a video explaining The Moon Museum, visit "Jade Dellinger on The Moon Museum'' by the Art Guys on Vimeo.  

Matt Spencer received his B.A in journalism from the University of South Florida. He is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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