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NMSU art professor awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship

When applying for an international award where there are 190 winners and more than 2,600 applicants, it's best to assume you won't get one.


David Taylor, associate professor of art at New Mexico State University, had applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship and was suffering a minor case of self-doubt after receiving a rejection letter for a less competitive opportunity earlier in the week. When he received an envelope from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Taylor assumed this was yet another rejection letter.

"With things like the Guggenheim, you put your best effort into the application, submit the materials and forget about it," Taylor said.

As Taylor pulled the envelope from the stack of mail, he began to recall a story about a former colleague and Guggenheim recipient who thought to himself "this is sort of thick for a rejection letter," while opening a letter from the same foundation.

After opening the letter, Taylor found he had joined a list of 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship Award winners graced by two Pulitzer Prize winners, and formerly represented by past Nobel Prize and National Book Award winners.

"It's taken a while for the reality of the situation to sink in," Taylor said.

According to the Guggenheim Foundation, "fellows are appointed on the basis of stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment." The 2008 list of winners is represented by 75 disciplines and 81 academic institutions.

The average amount of a fellowship grant in 2007 was approximately $40,211 with the purpose of providing fellows with time to work with as much creative freedom as possible. They may spend their grant funds in any manner necessary to their work.

Taylor said there are many factors that play into winning the award and it ultimately comes down to the right work at the right time.

"It's possible that I could have sent in the same proposal last year and not received the fellowship," Taylor said.

In his proposed work plan to the foundation, Taylor outlined projects that are a continuation of work he already has under way.

For two years, Taylor has photographed the U.S. and Mexico border to portray as he said, "the dissonance between our idealized notion of the West and the present-day issues playing out along the U.S./Mexico border."

Taylor said he has been fascinated by the word "frontier" and the two distinct usages in the English and Spanish languages.

"The common usage is different," Taylor said. "In Spanish it means 'the line.' In English the 'frontier' is an idealized local just over the horizon - the place we test ourselves."

Growing up in New England, the West was a place Taylor had never been exposed to.

"This is an incredibly interesting and engaging place to end up," Taylor said.

Last year Taylor was awarded and completed a commission for an artwork that's permanently installed in a newly constructed U.S. Border Patrol station in Van Horn, Texas. This work became one of the starting points for his Guggenheim proposal.

Taylor said he plans to spend the next year photographing along the U.S./Mexico border.

As one of the requirements for the award, Taylor will have his teaching reduced in order to pursue the project he outlined in the proposal.

A major source of inspiration comes from Taylor's students. He said some of his students have gone on to pursue a graduate degree from prestigious art schools.

"My real job is to teach people how to be independent thinkers and find their own voice through their work," Taylor said.

Taylor has been teaching at NMSU for nine years. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1989 from Tufts University and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He received his Master of Fine Arts in 1994 from the University of Oregon.