This weekend I will be back with friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to facilitate a teacher workshop about working with Art21 education materials and teaching with El Anatsui’s gorgeous exhibition, When I Last Wrote To You About Africa. This being Art21’s second visit to UMMA, I am looking forward to once again working with Pam Reister, Jann Wesolek, and all of the participants joining us this weekend.
El Anastui, one of my favorite artists from Season 6, is in some ways an educator’s dream. His sculptures and installations reference history, culture and memory while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of found materials and different processes for making art. And while Anatsui is best known for his stunning, draped metal sculptures, there is more to the work with than meets the eye… and that’s quite a bit to begin with.
For example, if we step back four decades ago to Anatsui’s initial work in Ghana, the artist began using materials from his immediate surroundings—carving into wooden trays much like those sold in markets to display fruit and vegetables—and then creating works with adinkra-like symbols prominently featured. As Olu Oguibe describes in the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the show, Anastui has been guided by the following principles since this early work:
- Pay close attention to location and environment
- Learn whatever you can from local practitioners
- Use found objects and materials from your surroundings, especially your immediate surroundings
- Let the medium and materials suggest, even dictate, the form
- Acknowledge the potential for art to serve as a metaphor or visual allegory
Anatsui’s ceramic sculpture from 1978, Omen, explores how brokenness can somehow inspire new life and healing. From the small burst of an opening to the coating of manganese that speckles the surface formed from damaged ceramic pieces, Anatsui’s work can represent ideas about fragility and even political instability in Africa.
Are you a teacher interested in learning more about utilizing contemporary art in your classroom? Does spending a week in New York City this summer collaborating with other educators and with Art21 sound like a fantastic way to get motivated and plan for the next school year? Is ongoing support with other contemporary art educators throughout the 2013-2014 academic year something that would inspire your teaching?
Then Art21 Educators is for you.
Art21 is now accepting applications through March 17 for year 5 of our popular Art21 Educators program, which kicks off with our summer institute from July 10 through July 17 in New York City. Along with a series of unique and useful professional development workshops, this summer’s institute will feature visits with Art21 artists and special presentations at museums and cultural institutions here in NYC.
Art21 Educators is for you if you are interested in ratcheting up your practice. It’s for you if you’re interested in exploring how video can play multiple roles in your classroom- as both a teaching and learning tool. And it’s definitely for you if you are interested in making sense of the fascinating, mesmerizing, and sometimes bizarre world of contemporary art with your students.
Join us this summer. Apply to the Art21 Educators program by clicking here to get started…
If you haven’t visited already, the Fisher Landau Center for Art is a wonderful oasis to add to the list of places you can see exciting work in Long Island City. This week, I am taking one of my classes to visit the current show, Visual Conversations. During this visit I am interested in encouraging my students to draw relationships between works of art and to think about how context affects what we see. Can works of art “speak” to the viewer or have “conversations” with other works? If so, how?
For example, at the start of the show, how is Richard Artshwager’s geometric freestanding sculpture (Untitled) affected by the immediate presence of Al Taylor’s gestural wall piece (also Untitled) composed of line and projected shadows? How do we see these works differently because of their proximity to each other? What kind of conversation do they have? What can be said about the striking interaction between Annette Lemieux’s “Sleep Interrupted” and Robert Gober’s “Crouching Man”, only a few feet away? As we move through the exhibition we will also investigate how titles help or sometimes hinder the experience of art, as well as looking into how abstract works can tell stories in different ways vs. representational works.
In the end, students will be asked to create a work of art over the course of one week that somehow speaks to, or “talks back” to, one of the works they experienced in the show. Students will then share with the class not only their finished work but also the work that inspired the “conversation” and what they picture the conversation to be about.
This exhibit, which includes 43 artists (and many represented with multiple works), is an opportunity to showcase work from “LEGACY: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection”, a traveling exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art that will tour the United States from 2013 through 2015.
Stay tuned for a full report on how things go!
David Brooks Tears The Roof Off is an apt title for one of our most recent New York Close Up films this summer. Within the first 60 seconds of a pretty intense tour that runs under eight minutes we get to hear Brooks passionately describe the housing boom that has threatened the Everglades in South Florida, a place he has personally visited for decades. We are then introduced to an installation titled Desert Rooftops inspired by this crisis and completed right here in New York City… literally on the last undeveloped lot in Times Square.
While the housing industry shamelessly encroaches on the protected Everglades, here we see midtown skyscrapers “framing” this “viral” layout of rooftops connected- sprawling- throughout the space. Brooks acknowledges that the work is perhaps difficult at first to recognize as art, but as the viewer engages with it and makes associations it becomes clear that something curious is going on and this isn’t some three-dimensional promo for a roofing company… even if Fox News couldn’t figure it out (and does the anchorwoman say “Home Depot” or “Home Thiebaud”? Just asking).
Brooks’ work can appeal to students in different ways, opening up a mixed bag of questions and assumptions, such as:
- What kinds of things can we use to make art?
- Does having an explanation or narrative help or hinder the viewer’s experience?
- What kinds of associations can viewers make engaging with a work such as this?
- Can public art tell stories that “white cubes” cannot? If so, how… and why?
- How can more artists make environmentally conscious work and not mirror a “resource-devouring” industry like home construction?
Students who watch the film can also investigate how past and present examples of suburban sprawl have affected other places, as well as the things that have been produced by artists and others in response.
Finally, David Brooks talks about Desert Rooftops being “instigated” by the space in Times Square but I think it actually plays a little tug-of-war with it. These rooftops, seeming to grow like weeds from the small plot, are practically being watched and scrutinized by the surrounding buildings that tower over them. They spread throughout the plot quite freely yet the fence reminds everyone that this is the end- this is the edge of the frame. And in this way the work goes on to speak about both sprawl and a kind of containment.
In each of our new season 6 episodes, not to mention throughout the entire Art21 series, there are superb quotes to share with students, colleagues and friends as kickstarters for discussions, assignments- even as a way to challenge assumptions we make in our work as artists and educators. This week I want to highlight a few quotes from the Balance episode and reflect on some of what each quote can inspire or teach, even across disciplines. During the summer I will then revisit the “Kickstarters” posts to focus on other quotes from the remaining episodes.
I don’t think of myself as being a landscape painter. In the popular envisioning of that term, a landscape consists of a painting with a field and a pond and a tree and a mountain in the distance, etc. It’s a sort of recipe thing. I hope very much that my paintings don’t look like recipe paintings, that I’ve gone to other places and seen something different. – Rackstraw Downes
What I like most about this quote is that Downes reminds us that he goes to “other” places for inspiration, which is essentially what we ask of our students on a regular basis. He makes clear that he has seen “something different” and wants to share this vision. He also gets to remove the box that a description like “landscape painter” may very well put him in. As teachers, we want our students to look beyond the obvious and at details in order to make sense of the complexity that comes with seeing a bigger picture. We want them to cultivate an individuality that steers clear of most labels.
I like setting up problems for the viewer and that viewer isn’t someone detached from me. I’m the viewer. I’m the first viewer. – Robert Mangold
The power of using this quote by Robert Mangold comes from re-visioning who the “viewer” actually is. If the artist is the first viewer then the effect a work has on the artist can inform how to shape the work for others to experience. Mangold also emphasizes “setting up” problems and intentionally giving himself something to figure out in order to learn something new. Think about how different some assignments would be if we simply asked, “So what kind of problem are you setting up for yourself here?”
My whole body of work has this kind of flexible, mutable quality. It has the rawness of a studio, or the rawness of a laboratory where things could happen, where things could fall apart. – Sarah Sze
As Sarah Sze discusses her work, she spotlights how many artists today are making art that is elastic in some way. But she is also talking about taking risks, which we emphasize is a big part of learning in all disciplines. Taking a chance where in fact things CAN fall apart simultaneously holds the promise of, “What can we learn if it doesn’t?”
Until next week…
But last week I had the chance to catch Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, “Ten Years”, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there I was walking around in circles, revisiting works multiple times, looking into details I missed on the first and second go-round. Is it a coincidence that Strauss’ 2008 book, America, just happens to hold the same title as the Glenn Ligon show from last year? I wonder.
This mid-career retrospective was epic, not in breadth or scale, but in the quality of composition and the framing of content. Strauss, who as an untrained photographer explores “the most disenfranchised people and places” through photographs that share a “poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America,” literally exhibited annually in a space under I-95 in South Philadelphia from 2001-2010. She plastered the walls of the space with her work, gave visitors a guide to the show and made herself available to sign prints for $5 each. And while she was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2006 I think moving from an I-95 underpass to the Philadelphia Museum in about ten years isn’t half bad.
In her recent show, which closed on April 22nd, Strauss gave us lots to chew on. Whether gazing into her portraits of strangers, picking through photos of cityscapes and skylines, or laughing out loud at her precisely composed pictures of signs and text, Strauss most certainly attained her goal of creating a “narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life”. One look at “Mattress Flip” (2001) or “Ken and Don, Las Vegas” (2007) will attest to this. Her photos are somber and simultaneously joyful. The way she frames her subjects keep us coming back for more and quite frankly, she doesn’t need to print the photographs larger than life to get her point across. Many works, at 12 by 18 inches, are plenty big without needing a team of handlers and a forklift.
Teachers who want utilize Strauss’ work in the classroom will find that she can be a huge inspiration to students who want to chronicle their own place and time, much like LaToya Ruby Frazier. But unlike Frazier, Strauss often works with strangers and has photographed other parts of the country, such as Biloxi, Mississippi and Camden, New Jersey, to shoot the personalities and landscape of similarly struggling towns and neighborhoods.
I kept hearing nervous laughter while visiting the show. Were people laughing at the work? Were they laughing because they recognized some of the local storefronts Strauss pictured? Or was that nervous laughter because many people somehow saw themselves in these moments of peace and distress?
Please take a look at the slideshow that accompanies the narrative of the Strauss retrospective and share any ideas you may have for working with her photography in (and out) of the classroom.
The LA Times’ Leah Ollman hit it on the head last month when she wrote in Art in America:
To embrace opposing emotions can yield frictional sparks and wonderfully uneasy tension; it can complicate and deepen the response a work generates.
Ollman was discussing the work of Robert Adams in her excellent article, Romantic Realist, as well as the current retrospective, “Robert Adams: The Place We Live” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While Adams himself may admit to being in pursuit of beauty through his photography, his work clearly highlights, “…where and how nature and culture meet”- for better or worse.
Teaching with and sharing Adams’ photography with students can allow for a broader understanding of what makes a great picture. Do we look for precise technical qualities, superb composition and a story the viewer can take away, or do we allow for ambiguity and multiple story lines in photos that simultaneously transport the viewer and force them to hold up a mirror? Adams talks about telling the truth and having to “simultaneously accept what one had to accept” during the Exclusive video, “Robert Adams: Working Along Freeways”. His photo of a garbage truck, while inducing “revulsion” in Adams’ words, is beautiful at the same time. His photo of a young girl walking through a huge trailer court evokes loneliness and sadness while depicting an extraordinary light and landscape.
In Art21’s season 4 educator guide, one of the activities suggested after viewing Robert Adams’ segment asks students to create a visual essay of their own region using books, newspaper and magazine articles, the internet, and interviews with teachers, neighbors… even family members. Through the process of gathering these kinds of images, there is an opportunity for students to see the parallels of beauty and ugliness in change. Working with Adams’ photos, students can further their understanding of how ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty play a role in making works of art that affect the viewer on multiple levels and push the definition of what can be beautiful, not to mention illuminating.
This week’s column features a new interview with Janine Antoni in advance of her upcoming keynote address and workshop at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference on March 2nd here in New York City.
As many of you already know, Antoni’s work blurs the distinction between performance art and sculpture. Using her body, she transforms everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and sleeping into ways of making art. She has chiseled cubes of lard and chocolate with her teeth, washed away the faces of soap busts made in her own likeness, and used the brainwave signals recorded while she dreamed at night as a pattern for weaving a blanket the following morning.
Tell me about some of the things you have been focusing on at Columbia University since the last time we spoke. What course(s) are you teaching and what has the experience been like?
Janine Antoni: I’ve been teaching for the graduate program at Columbia University over the past 12 years in a very interesting program they’ve developed called the Master Class/ Mentor Groups. The students chose two mentors from a pool of twelve artists from very different perspectives. It is a one-week workshop that happens every semester during their two years of graduate school. There is an intensity created from being together all day that leads to a kind of intimacy that’s very productive to teaching. Columbia has never instructed me on what to teach but the intention of the class is for the students to get into the mind of their chosen artist, allowing them to experience one way of being an artist in the world. This enables me to model the class alongside my current creative process and explorations. Over the years, after a lot of experimentation, I’ve slowly developed a methodology that seems to foster creativity in interesting ways. I create a loose theme for the week, and I vary the activities as much as possible. We make, we look, we move, we explore, we create dialog, and I intentionally create gaps between these approaches and the theme is never revealed. These gaps are created to allow the artists to find bridges in relationship to their work and interests. Again and again I am surprised at how their experience during mentor week triggers new work. The thing that I’m interested in is that the creative process is never in a straight line, so if you teach in a straight line you won’t get the best results. To create you have to be out on a limb and to teach requires the same risk.
Since you have a child in school now, I am wondering about your reactions to the art making experiences she has had so far. What kinds of things has she described when it comes to participating in “art class”?
JA: She rarely speaks about her art classes specifically. But the other day she told me that she’s the only one in her class that can cut a perfect circle. She wasn’t so interested in the fact that she perfected this craft but what she wanted me to know is that she could make a perfect circle as a lefty using a righty scissor. She instinctively invents a personal way of approaching all tasks. What’s important for me is that I value that personal approach in her and that her teachers have the sensitivity to do that as well. Continue reading »
This past spring at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in Seattle, Art21 brought Mark Dion not only as a keynote speaker, but also to explore his work and consider the possibilities for interdisciplinary teaching, especially through his interactive Neukom Vivarium.
On the heels of last week’s post, I would like to share a few excerpts from a group conversation that took place last April in Seattle between Art21’s Director of Education, Jessica Hamlin and the following panel members:
- Jenn Wilson, manager of education and school programs at the Seattle Art Museum
- Kristin Jamerson, an ambassador at the Olympic Sculpture Park and one who works directly with the Neukom Vivarium helping facilitate dialogue with people who come to see the work
- Jessica Levine, a 6th grade middle school science teacher in Seattle
- Tamara Moats, an art history teacher at the Bush School in Seattle
- Mark Dion
Jessica Hamlin: We have a lot of documentation about Neukom Vivarium but it’s a very different experience to actually be in it and to think about it as a living, breathing thing. And after you make something like Neukom Vivarium, what happens when you have a really dynamic, living, breathing thing that’s both a work of art and an ecological system? What does it mean for both how we teach art, for how we think about what museum education does, for how we think about talking to other people who are not necessarily looking for art or science, but are simply interested in coming in out of the rain one day? And what does it mean as an artist to create something like this and then think about what its legacy is afterwards?
Jenn Wilson: We get to have a place like Olympic Sculpture Park that allows us to kind of push the boundaries of what an art museum conversation is into the world of environmental science, sustainability, and ecology. For me, I get to work a lot with teachers and educators to kind of push the boundaries of conversations about not only what art is but also what science is.
Jessica Levine: I come to my science education from a background in biology and environmental studies. I’m also an artist and photographer doing my work in the Seattle area. I consider the work that I do teaching about the science of sustainability and that means that thinking about sustainability as a context is more a methodology in teaching science and approaching that work, so arts integration is of course very important and the inquiry spirit of both science and art is essential. But I also come to the work in the classroom from being a wilderness educator and a landscape ecologist, so for me Neukom Vivarium is an important piece in Seattle as a place-based educator to have a space to go to within the city to experience the wilderness that is just west of here. I think my first initial connection with the piece was sort of it as a specimen and looking at the connection between small detail and large scale understanding of, in this case, sort of an ecosystem. Having the nurse log taken from a forest and brought to the city environment allows that juxtaposition to sort of come right into your face and say: What is wilderness? What is natural? What is nature? It gives us that opportunity to sort of really investigate and be in that green space to confront those questions personally. I’m particularly impressed that the piece also reveals the human aspect of natural history and so it pays homage to our natural history’s greatest with Rachel Carson’s name on the wall and others that are there. If one is to look at the log itself and then turn around to see the artists interpretations, the things on the tiles, and the curiosity cabinet that exists there, you discover that science is a human endeavor and art of course is a human endeavor and those two, both art and science, those are at the very nature of what it means to be human and that process of asking questions. Continue reading »
While preparing to travel to Diyarbakır, the largest city in southeastern Turkey, I discovered that telling Turkish people who live outside of that region that you’re going to visit Diyarbakır is akin to telling an average suburban American you’re going to hang out in an inner city housing project or along the wall dividing Israel and Palestine. Their eyes grow big, there’s a lot of gasping and “ooooh”ing, and they ask you, incredulously, “why would you want to go to Diyarbakır? It’s very dangerous there, you know.” Some treated it a bit like I was going on safari–a worthwhile, possibly exotic and educational, endeavor, as long as I had the proper guidance–and protection. Because Diyarbakır is not only the largest city in southeastern Turkey but also the capital of Kurdish culture in Turkey and the epicenter of a significant amount of violence throughout the 1980s and 1990s, inevitably the news of my travels sparked conversation about “the Kurdish question”–that is, the question of what freedoms and rights ethnic Kurds living in Turkey should be granted. For example, since the founding of the Republic, teaching Kurdish in schools and printing or broadcasting media in Kurdish has been outlawed, and celebration of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, was forbidden. In the past five years some of these restrictions have been eased, but the subject remains controversial, with many über-nationalistic Turks remaining opposed to the reforms.
So why would I want to travel to Diyarbakır? The art scene in Turkey is famously concentrated in Istanbul–what interest could a formally war-torn and politically unstable region of the country hold for a yabancı (foreigner)? In fact, Diyarbakır has produced some of the most active, intelligent, and influential figures in contemporary Turkish art. These would include artist and curator Halil Altındere, Berat Isik, Ahmet Öğüt (who, along with Banu Cennetoğlu, represented Turkey at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009) as well as Suat Öğüt and Mehmet Öğüt, Erkan Özgen, and Cengiz Tekin. (Fikret Atay, another well-known Kurdish artist, actually hails from Batman, a smaller city located about two hours from Diyarbakır.) All of these artists have exhibited extensively both throughout Turkey and internationally. But the godfather of the Diyarbakır art community is undoubtedly Şener Özmen. For the past twenty years, Özmen has worked not only as an artist but also as a poet, art critic, translator, and teacher. He collaborates constantly with his fellow Diyarbakır-based artists, has nurtured a new generation of artists, produces texts for exhibition catalogues, designs covers for Lîs Publishing (a prominent Kurdish language publishing house based in Diyarbakır), writes fiction and poetry, and supports the work of the Diyarbakır Arts Centre. In an essay included in the recently published monograph A Sener Ozmen Book, critic Süreyyya Evren describes him as “an artist who cannot relax.” When I visited Diyarbakır, I was honored that Özmen took the time from his busy professional and personal life (he is also a father and husband) to serve, along with Cengiz Tekin, as an attentive and wildly entertaining host. At one point, while we were riding a dolmuş (mini-bus) from Diyarbakır to have breakfast at Hasankeyf, a historical site located on the Tigris River (which, sadly, is likely to be destroyed in the near future by a hydroelectric dam project), Özmen casually remarked that this was the first day off from work that he had ever taken. It sounds like hyperbole, but given his extraordinary output, I am inclined to believe this was true.