*Ed. Note: This is the first post in a five-part series by Richard McCoy on the art and artists he encountered during a recent trip to Nigeria.
At the conclusion of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) exhibition, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, I was invited by the U.S. organizer, the Museum for African Art (MfAA), to help their registrar, Amanda Thompson, with the return of more than 100 important artworks to their home country — the works had been out of Nigeria for three years, travelling to six venues in Europe and the USA.
It was truly a privilege to play even a small part in returning these artworks to Nigeria, and a mind-changing experience traveling to Africa for my first time.
While our work days were busy carefully examining each artwork to ensure that it was in the same condition as when it left, in the evenings and weekends I investigated a number of galleries, exhibitions, and studios of contemporary artists working in and around Lagos. What I saw were individuals looking at the rich history and traditions of Nigeria through the lens of the 21st century, in some cases preserving traditions and in others challenging the colonial past and current government, which is infamous for its corruption.
Staying at the hotel Bogobiri House, with its live music just about every night and walls and courtyard filled with contemporary art, it felt like I was at one of the centers of the Lagos art scene. Bogobiri, which is also home to the gallery, Nimbus, is owned by Chike Nwagbogu; he has received a lot of attention for his ideas of putting art at the center of the transformation of Nigeria.
Over the past few weeks I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking and e-mailing with two more of our current Art21 Educators, Jethro Gillespie and Jack Watson. Jethro teaches Studio Art, 3D Design, Ceramics and more at Maple Mountain High School in Utah while Jack teaches 2D Art and Art History at Chapel High School in North Carolina.
Similar to Julia Coppersmith and Maureen Hergott, whom I interviewed a few weeks back, Jethro and Jack have an infectious passion for the the things they teach and accomplish with students. Both look for ways to better engage their classes on a consistent basis and avoid “window dressing” projects that may look pretty but aren’t necessarily about very much…
Since participating in the summer institute, could you describe a significant change, improvement or extension of your teaching practice? Has the experience also in some way affected your own art making?
Jack Watson: There are lots of little ways that the Art21 experience works its way into my classroom – visual brainstorming with post-its, discussion prompts, the “parking lot” – but I think the most significant change to my pedagogy is reframing my curriculum within central questions, as opposed to objectives. Like most teachers, I was trained to construct lessons rooted in standards with clearly defined objectives. This is useful if you want your students to produce the same result, but frustrating and limited for working with open-ended ideas and contemporary art practices. A framework of central questions opens the space to dialogue, ideas and possibilities.
As for my own practice, I’ve learned to embrace chance, and to focus more on the process than the product. I think in particular of our visit to Oliver Herring’s studio in Brooklyn. His work is so process-oriented, and he made such a strong impression on all of us that week. I was most surprised that his studio was devoid of any of the trappings of a traditional artist’s studio: no easels, paints, etc. Aside from some photos and a pile of TASK artifacts, I remember it being an open space full of possibilities- much like the classrooms we’re trying to create. He might resist this metaphor, but it left an impression on me!
Jethro Gillespie: The most visible change in my own teaching since the summer institute is the inclusion of TASK parties. I’ve organized various TASK events with my own students at school and at 3 different conferences for fellow art educators since the summer institute. And to echo what Jack said, meeting Oliver Herring was for me probably the most memorable and inspiring part of that experience.
For me, TASK is so simple and so brilliant- I think the underlying, formative ideas behind TASK have to do with the relationship of the participants that engage with it, and also focusing more on the process than the product. As a teacher, having a TASK party with my students (right at the beginning of the school year) demonstrated and nurtured a genuine trust between me and my students, especially when it came to issues of power and control in the classroom.
In my first few years of teaching I tried to “manage” my class with some admittedly top-down, almost militant strategies in order to try and ‘control’ different situations. This ultimately left most kids feeling dis-empowered and often led to power struggles that I didn’t want to deal with. I’ve since tried to examine and focus my teaching practice on building a healthy and generative class environment in order to help students feel more empowered- especially when it comes to creating meaningful student art projects. Being involved with TASK has really helped me to re-examine my own teaching practice concerning these issues of relinquishing control in order to form relationships of trust with my students. And as an art teacher, TASK has also helped me shift my focus away from simply getting students to produce things, and towards getting students more involved with the process of creating.
Our latest Exclusive video is now live on Art21.org: click here to watch Yinka Shonibare MBE on “Black Artists.” As Shonibare installs his 2008 solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, he discusses his experience as a black artist living and working in the United Kingdom. With few black artist role models from the previous generation to follow in the path of, Shonibare describes his motivation and strategy for getting his work into the art system.
In multimedia projects that reveal his passion for art history, literature, and philosophy, Yinka Shonibare MBE provides a critical tour of Western civilization and its achievements and failures. At the same time, his sensitive use of his own foibles (vanity, for one) and challenges (physical disability) provide an autobiographical perspective through which to navigate the contradictory emotions and paradoxes of his examination of individual and political power.
Yinka Shonibare MBE is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Transformation of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes (link opens application), or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.
CREDITS | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Philippe Charluet & Ian Serfontein. Sound: Mark Cornish & Paul Stadden. Editor: Joaquin Perez. Artwork Courtesy: Yinka Shonibare MBE. Thanks: Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
In this week’s roundup Kiki Smith explores interdependence, Paul McCarthy delves into expressionism, Laurie Anderson sees the future, Cindy Sherman deals with fiction/depiction, and more.
- Visionary Sugar: Works by Kiki Smith will be on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College (NY). The exhibition includes new large-scale drawings, collages, tapestries, multi-colored gilded reliefs, and metal sculpture. In this work, Kiki Smith explores the interdependence of all living things, “representing and embracing the vitality of an animistic, spiritually-charged universe”. The show will run February 4 – May 6.
- L.A. RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles, 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy is part of the Getty Foundation’s initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980 that traces the distinctive aesthetic of figurative expressionism from the end of World War II to the present. The Pasadena Museum of California Art show includes Paul McCarthy‘s work and demonstrates the ongoing relevance of expressionism as a primary approach to art making. This exhibition closes May 20.
- Tommy Hartung & Uri Aran reflects the two artists’ years of exchange and collaboration, revealing their parallel interests in storytelling and varied notions of desire, sentimentality, and sadness. The exhibition is accompanied by a published conversation between Hartung and Aran. This show takes place at White Flag Projects (St. Louis) and closes February 18.
- Kerry James Marshall‘s Black Night Falling: Black holes and constellations will soon be on view at the Monique Meloche Gallery (Chicago). This work is part of the gallery’s on the wall series, a rotation of projects viewed from the street through floor to ceiling windows. This series is intended to engage the community and challenge the white cube notion of viewing. Marshall’s work will be on view February 4 – May 12.
- Laurie Anderson was interviewed in the January 2012 issue of Believer magazine about her vision of art in the future. Anderson sees a future in which “[w]e’ll be able to be in the present more effectively” and no longer need to make art or have museums, say five thousand years from now. Anderson raises interesting questions for artists: Will art still be made in the future? If so, what will it look like?
- John Baldessari: Class Assignments, (Optional) features student works that are responses to a series of notes/instructions provided by John Baldessari, who first used them in 1970, when he was a professor at California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts). The project and exhibition reflect Baldessari’s ongoing interest in pedagogical and conceptual approaches to art making. This show is at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts and closes March 31.
- Cindy Sherman‘s work is on view in Blind Cut at the Marlborough Chelsea (NYC). This group exhibition spans several generations and addresses questions regarding identity, authorship, originality and reality. The work includes diverse notions of fiction and depiction and will close on February 18.
- Yinka Shonibare MBE will be exhibiting at the James Cohan Gallery (NYC) with a multi-part exhibition of new sculptures, photographs and the premiere of a new film. Shonibare’s Addio del Passato explores the concept of destiny as it relates to themes of desire, yearning, love, power and sexual repression. This exhibition will run February 16 – March 24.
- Vija Celmins, upcoming Season 6 artist Ai Weiwei, and 53 other artists have work in Lifelike, an international group exhibition at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) that features artists “variously using scale, unusual materials, and sly contextual devices to reveal the manner in which their subjects’ “authenticity” is manufactured.” The show will run from February 25 – May 27.
- Mark your calendars for the Barry McGee retrospective exhibition at the University of California’s Berkley Art Museum. This show will celebrate over 20 years of work from McGee. Sponsor the Andy Warhol Foundation donated $100,000 to the event, which is a testament to McGee’s work. This exhibition will run August 23 – December 9.
In this week’s roundup Barbara Kruger designs in Munich, Josiah McElheny reflects a mirage, Laurie Anderson joins the Occupy movement, Jeff Koons get under your skin, Lucas Blalock intervenes digitally, and much more.
- Barbara Kruger designed the 2011 EDITION 46 issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin which, in the 46th week of each year, is in the hands of an international contemporary artist. The magazine was published on November 18 as a supplement. This project has given rise to a temporary work that the artist has designed especially for the floor of the rotunda in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich where visitors can walk around the work.
- Cai Guo-Qiang‘s solo exhibition Saraab, will soon open at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. The work shows the artist’s connection to the Gulf through installations and a series of gunpowder drawings in which he incorporates elements from Islamic miniature paintings, decorative art, and textiles, as well as ancient maritime routes between the Arab world and his hometown of Quanzhou, China. On the opening day of the exhibition, the artist will create a large-scale daytime explosion event titled Black Ceremony that will be free to the public on a “first come, first served basis.” The main exhibition will be on view December 15, 2011 – May 26, 2012.
- Josiah McElheny‘s latest installation for The Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny: The Past Was A Mirage I Had Left Far Behind is at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (London) . McElheny has created seven huge mirrored sculptures, comprising screens that constantly play abstract films and distort, refract and multiply both the films and everything in the room. This work is on view until July 20, 2012.
- Lucas Blalock has a one-person exhibition, xyz, at Ramiken Crucible (NYC). The show features pictures that begins on film, shot with a 4×5 camera by the artist, and digital interventions follow. Blalock leaves these pictures unprotected from these overlapping strategies, which often contain procedures lifted from the technical production of commercial photography – the technology that was originally conceived of as invisible is put on stage to act among the intersecting possibilities of the mechanical, the procedural and the historical. This exhibition closes December 23.
- Laurie Anderson joins Occupy Musicians, a website that includes a list of hundreds of singers, guitarists, song writers and producers who put their names under the statement: We, the undersigned musicians and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.
- Yinka Shonibare, MBE‘s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle maquette has been selected for the third in a series of exhibitions featuring work from the Government Art Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery (London). The exhibition Travelling Light features an image of the work as the cover image for the catalogue that will accompany the exhibition. The exhibition runs from December 16, 2011 – February 26, 2012.
- Mark Bradford is featured in the publication Parkett edition 89. Christopher Bedford of the Wexner Center explores Mark Bradford’s shimmering grids, that to him evoke the live news footage shot by helicopters hovering over Los Angeles. Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan elaborates on Bradford’s assorted paper trail, revealing a frantic ethos of pest control, cheap divorce, prison phone services, money wires and credit lines. The artist retells the ancient legend of King Arthur by submerging a switchblade rather than a sword in a solid rock.
- Do Ho Suh’s installation Cause & Effect has been commissioned for the Academic Instructional Center at Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA). Cause & Effect evokes a vicious tornado, a vast ceiling installation of densely hung strands that anchor thousands of figures clad in colors resembling a Doppler reading stacked atop one another. The work is an attempt to decipher the boundaries between a single identity and a larger group, and how the two conditions coexist. The first phase of the installation will be on view December 12 – 30 while the sculpture’s support structure is installed.
- Jeff Koons teamed up with Kiehl’s to raise money for the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children through a limited-edition holiday collection of the brand’s signature Creme de Corps body moisturizer. The label of the 2011 edition features an image of the artist’s Balloon Flower (Yellow) sculpture from his Celebration series against a fuchsia background. The flower, which was exhibited in Versailles from 2008 to 2009, holds a special significance for the artist.
- Carrie Mae Weems‘s 2012 exhibition at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts (Nashville) will receive $48,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts in support of Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, opening Sept. 21, 2012, as well as production of the exhibition’s accompanying catalog. The exhibition will travel to the Portland (Oregon) Museum of Art: Feb–May 2013; to the Cleveland Museum of Art: June 30–Sept. 15, 2013; and to the Guggenheim Museum Oct. 18, 2013–Jan 19, 2014.
Yinka Shonibare MBE says in his season 5 segment that he would like to have the “trappings of wealth” himself, even though he may be criticizing it. And being made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is classic irony. It’s like giving Occupy Wall Street protesters keys to the city. But then again, maybe we should be giving these people keys to the city instead of forcing them to stop setting up and speaking up. Instead of blocking out reporters, maybe the mayor should be giving the press police escorts into the action. “Occupy” protests are calling attention to the inequality of 99% feeling the ever-increasing weight of a financial foot across their throat. People continue to struggle without jobs, health care, and especially hope. The fact that Occupy Wall Street protesters do not have specific “demands” doesn’t bother me. Calling attention to inequality in this way is a positive thing. More voters- from any political party- need to add their voices to the protests. (New York Close Up artist Martha Colburn recently filmed an Occupy Wall Street protest. Check it out here).
Working with a theme like inequality in the classroom can be a challenge. Similar to teaching about racial prejudice, there’s a ton that may go unsaid in a class discussion, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important for students to think about (and even write about) these things. What do our students imagine Occupy protesters stand for, or want? What would they do if in charge of the protests? How can they get involved, even if they’re not able to actually attend?
When I think about teaching with the theme of inequality in the classroom, I am first interested in the ways it can be taught at different grade levels. For example, in elementary school, students can be taught that shared decision making and collaboration is important for positive interaction among people. Working with an artist such as Oliver Herring can be a good place to start, as he works with others to help make his photographs and videos.
Middle school students, especially given the recent popularity of anti-bullying campaigns, can be exposed to the work of season 3 artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, especially in his Art21 Exclusive “Peace”, as he encourages viewers to speak “what is unspeakable” in order to avoid a “death of democracy”. If this doesn’t connect to Occupy Wall Street, I don’t know what does.
Finally, high school students might look into the season 4 segment featuring Allora and Calzadilla as they share the story behind their interactive work, “Chalk (Lima)”. Here, students get the opportunity to learn about protest in a way that is unconventional and non-violent, to say the least. Unless, of course, you consider “arresting” chalk particularly violent.
Other Art21 artists that address inequality in their work include Mark Bradford, Jenny Holzer and Alfredo Jaar, to name a few. And if you have used Occupy Wall Street in the classroom or taught about inequality with contemporary art, please share your story.
This week, let’s give thanks for the Occupy Wall Street protesters and Occupy protesters in dozens of other cities as they speak up for 99% of the 99% unable to stand alongside them.
Recently, a colleague and I were having a lovely conversation about what makes a good interdisciplinary lesson. We each had very different opinions and I was eager to make my co-worker understand that interdisciplinary teaching is not a one-way street. She seemed convinced that if a visual arts teacher somehow incorporated another subject or discipline into their work, this would constitute interdisciplinary teaching. I maintained that the “inter” in interdisciplinary means that two or more teachers from different disciplines plan and shape their lessons together, and that each teacher incorporates themes and learning objectives from both courses.
For example, if a science teacher says to a visual arts teacher, Hey Larry, I’m teaching about the parts of a blood cell next week. Would you mind if the kids made diagrams of blood cells in your art class? This does not translate into interdisciplinary teaching. As a matter of fact, it’s insulting to Larry because it insinuates that his art curriculum can be put on hold to make diagrams for a science class.
On the other hand, if the same science teacher says, Hey Larry, can we compare what we’re teaching over the next few weeks? I would love to collaborate with you and talk about ways our students can better understand the parts of a cell through art. At the same time, maybe I can help with teaching students about that metamorphosis lesson you described and even about abstraction through looking at blood cells. Well… now we’re talking!
Good interdisciplinary teaching doesn’t get done on the fly and doesn’t come packaged as “Here’s what you can do for me.” When I try to come up with artists that lend themselves to interdisciplinary teaching I visualize:
- Learning about biology through examining the work of Mark Dion
- Learning to reconsider American history through the photos of Carrie Mae Weems
- Learning to love mathematics through deconstructing the work of Sol LeWitt
- Learning about the dissolution of apartheid through the drawings and films of William Kentridge
- Learning about race and colonialism by discussing works by Yinka Shonibare MBE
I also think about:
- Learning about symmetry and asymmetry in math
- Learning about color and light in science
- Learning about artists who protest with and through art in social studies
- Learning about how words are designed in order to convey specific meaning in a literature class
Maybe you have an experience you’d like to share? Feel free to post your thoughts on what good interdisciplinary teaching looks and sounds like!
In this week’s roundup Yinka Shonibare MBE discusses post-Colonial Britain, John Baldessari talks about graffiti and street art, Barbara Kruger explores the game of chess, works by Barry McGee and Fred Wilson are at the center of controversies, and more.
- Yinka Shonibare MBE will talk about the history and cultural legacy of post-colonial Britain this week at The Human Rights Action Centre (London). This is part of Inviva’s Significant Voices program. The event will take place Wednesday, October 19, 6:30pm.
- Cai Guo-Qiang‘s work is part of The Art Museum, a unique collection of the world’s important and influential art works, curated by a team of over 100 global art experts, from Phaidon houses – in one place. This imaginary museum is actually a book.
- Barbara Kruger is exhibiting work at The World Chess Hall of Fame, a cultural venue that showcases art, history, science and sports through the lens of chess. Untitled (Do you feel comfortable losing?) is one of several pieces that demonstrate an integration of chess that goes beyond the visual, incorporating elements of play or strategy that invite the viewer to reflect on the game’s intricate operations. This show on view until February 12, 2012.
One of the students in my advanced classes is taking on the theme of “looking vs. seeing” for her first semester portfolio. She wants to explore the things people tend to overlook (or under-see) and over the next four months will create about a dozen works of art that explore the theme from different angles:
- What does it mean to see something?
- How is looking different from seeing?
- When you really see something, how do you know?
And this is just one of the many outstanding themes students are exploring. Others include:
- Picturing sound
- The relationship between drawing and photography
- Beauty and youth
- Fairy tales and false promises
I even have one student who wants to explore, visually, particularly elusive phrases connected by the word “and” (such as “body and soul”).
Asking students to not only work thematically, but to work thematically in a series allows for the kind of immersion that most teachers dream about. Testing, unfortunately, has many of these teachers flitting from topic to topic trying to “cover a curriculum” that will surface on some standardized test vs. making space for students to become invested in exploring a theme and the big questions that go with it.
But getting to a theme that a student really wants to explore is perhaps the hardest hill to climb. Prior to choosing themes in the fall semester, I asked students to do a LOT of sketching as well as research into artists that have similar passions, ideas, or approaches to making art. We did a lot of exploring and talking about what makes us particularly happy, angry, confused and excited. We made lots of lists and notes. In just two weeks I have shared the “portfolios” of artists such as Eleanor Antin, Marilyn Minter, Ed and Nancy Kienholz, Amy Sillman, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman and Barry McGee, to name a few.
In order to visualize working in a series, students need to see artists that not only work this way but think this way. Artists that do this especially well, and I am sure to bring into the classroom soon, include Dana Schutz (who happens to have a great show at the Neuberger Museum right now), Mark Rothko, Diego Rivera, Carrie Mae Weems, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Nancy Spero, Collier Schorr, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston, Robert Mangold and Mary Heilmann. Too often, students expect to generate great ideas by staring at a blank piece of paper and waiting for lightning. Instead, I encourage them to visually “wander” in order to compare the ideas they have with other artists, or compare the approaches and processes that some artists use with their own in order to inform their work… and ultimately inform the series.
How many of you get the opportunity to work with students on developing a body of work around a theme? What are your experiences? Are there other artists you use to illustrate working in a series? Share your stories with us!
In this week’s roundup, Collier Schorr’s and Matthew Barney’s mixed signals, Carrie Mae Weems and Rashid Johnson bridge divides, several upcoming events, and more.
- Collier Schorr and Matthew Barney have work featured in Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports at the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh). The exhibition deals with the subject of the male athlete and features 17 artists, including Schorr and Barney. Featured works emphasize the many ways masculinity is performed and socially constructed. This show closes August 7.
- Carrie Mae Weems brings Slow Fade to Black to DownStreet Art (North Adams, MA). The show takes a critical look at the historical drama by staging and presenting several narratives works that play across the historical divide. The work consists of two new video projections and rarely seen photographs, including stills, paintings, and projections with sound designed with the assistance of composer Gregory Wanamaker. The show will run through September 25.
- Rashid Johnson is featured in the New York Observer. After Post-Black: Rashid Johnson’s Baadasssss Song examines the artist’s practice, style and representation of contemporary Black life in America. This October, Johnson’s work will be on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), as part of 30 Americans that will run October 1 – February 12, 2012.