Friday, August 6, 2010

Work or Play?

Many of my colleagues have mentioned how lucky we are to be getting paid to talk about something that we all love all day and get compensated for it. And it's true, how many people get the opportunity to do what they love? The work portion of our position is to research and construct lesson plans for our tours. The play portion is everything else that goes along with the job, such as giving the tours and interacting with the viewers whether they are school age or adults.


Other really fun aspects of the position is having the opportunity to get involved with the different summer programs that the Art Institute is associated with.

For example Maya, Sandy and I got involved the Target Arts and Wonder, which was a free program for families to come to the Ryan Education center and make art.

We decorated totes and made really cool 3D self portraits that both the children and adults enjoyed making.


Sandy and I were also lucky enough to get involed with helping out at the Children's Museum at Navy Pier. It was "Play With Your Art Day," the Art Institute had a booth where the children could design their own hats inspired by Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.

So you tell me.... Is this work or play?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Dream Team

I’m going to follow in Sandy’s footsteps and talk about a tour theme that I never got to do. For one, I could never think of a good enough title. It kept turning into “Pieces that have crazy backgrounds that no one knows about.” Pretty lame. Adrienne told me that I should call it “Past Lives”, and if it ever emerged, that’s what it would be.



Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903-04.

An icon of the Art Institute, and the highlight from Picasso’s Blue Period, this piece is a real crowd pleaser. With students, it’s great to talk about how color is important to the mood and meaning of a piece. But one of the most interesting parts about this painting is what’s behind it. X-Rays and ultraviolet photography show that Picasso used this canvas to paint two other pieces. You can even see a woman’s eyes in the paint above the guitarist’s head. There is also a visible seam where Picasso painted the canvas over the leaves of his kitchen table. Poor Picasso was so broke! No wonder he was blue.


Charles Ray, Hinoki, 2007
As Sandy said, the interns love Hinoki. I mean it’s a tree. In a museum. Carved from another tree. Love. It.


Egyptian Model Boat, c. 2046-1794 B.C.
I know I’ve used this before, but anything that has to do with death and mummification is a hit with any student. This boat was supposed to come to life with the person in the afterlife to guide them to safety. Using this piece also pays tribute to my favorite childhood movie, The Indian in the Cupboard. Things coming to life → always a good pick for a tour.



Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892 (right) and Equestrienne, 1887 (above).

I’ll admit it, I just really love Lautrec. The creepy faces, weird colors and all. Maya and I had a great discussion about these paintings on an adult tour. People can talk about them forever! The Moulin Rouge painting once had the green woman (presumably French dancer, May Milton) cut out because dealers didn’t think it would sell. All the figures have their backs turned to Milton because she was about to head off to America to become a big star. Lautrec even painted himself into the background! The Equestrienne painting was displayed on the wall of the Moulin Rouge as visitors walked in.


Ivan Albright, Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943-44
In the beginning of the Summer I hated this piece. So. Much. But now, I’ve grown to love it! This was painted for the 1946 movie of Oscar Wilde’s book, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Though the movie was filmed in all black and white, this portrait was the only part of the movie to be filmed in color. Creeeepy.


Felix Gonzalez Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) 1991
Who doesn’t love candy? Felix Gonzalez Torres created this portrait of his boyfriend, Ross, after he died from AIDS. The candy is set every morning at 175 lbs., Ross’s ideal weight. Throughout the day visitors are asked to take a piece of candy, causing the piece to shrink and loose weight. It shows Ross’s sweet and colorful nature, as well as the regeneration of life every morning. Plus the students get to pick out their own piece to eat! Incredible edible art.

So that's the dream tour. And hopefully one day someone can use it! This internship has been an incredible experience. I've never met a more encouraging, enthusiastic group of people, and I was actually excited about coming into work each morning. Annie from adult programs told us that we'll probably run into each other at CAA (College Art Association) conferences screaming and hugging. I can only imagine...

FANTASY TOUR: The Little Tour That Could

With our time at AIC coming to a quick close, it's fun to reflect on the tours that never were. David and I stuck pretty firmly to our Travel & Transformation Tour - alternating the order and pieces that we used and sharing research with one another, since after all it was such a solid tour theme. In addition to our Travel & Transformation tour, we also had to put together ABCs In Art Tours which included "Animals In Art", "Color, Line, and Shape", and "My Five Senses" for younger audiences which focus more on the experience of interacting with the artwork and aren't as strictly content based.


Either way, we've been keeping ourselves quite busy touring, exploring, and researching - so it doesn't quite surprise me that I didn't get the chance to put together my fantasy tour. BUT it is going to be up for grabs for future docents, so feel free to borrow it!!


And now for the tour: Fabulous Fibbers & Incredible Illusions


The idea for this tour came from my desire to design a tour in which I could utilize Adriean van der Spelt's/Frans van Mieris' Tromp-l'Oeil Still-Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain - since I have a "thing" for Dutch Baroque still-life painting, being the first topic I researched as a freshman dabbling in the field of Art History. This painting is one of my absolute favorites in the collection, because of the attention to detail, particularly the surface qualities of the different textures, objects, and materials all expertly conveyed in oil paint!! I honestly feel as though I could reach my hand up and pull that curtain across to unveil what lays concealed.
Tromp-l'Oeil Still-Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain
Adriean van der Spelt/Frans van Mieris (Dutch)
1658
Oil on Canvas (or is it...)
There's a fantastic story that is being referenced here - the ancient Greek myth of the rivalry between two painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius. The two rival painters were in competition with one another to see who could paint the most lifelike picture. Zeuxis painted an image of grapes so lifelike, that birds landed upon the painting to peck at the painted grapes.  Parrhasius then showed his image - a painting of closed curtains, so real that Zeuxis tried to pull them away to reveal the painting hidden behind the curtain. Parrhasius won the contest, astonishing Zeuxis, and creating the legend of illusion that inspires this very tour.

We're going to fast forward in time with the rest of our works to see how artists use illusion, tromp-l'oeil, and other tricks of the trade to depict things that could never quite exist in reality.
Time Transfixed
Rene Magritte (Belgian)
1938
Oil on Canvas
Magritte's realism and illusionism is super fun. I'm a big fan of having visitors say discuss what this painting means to them, based upon their own personal associations with the various objects and imagery. Plus his mirror that reflects/doesn't reflect is AWESOME!
Woman Descending the Staircase
Gerhard Richter
1965
Oil on Canvas
The illusion here lies in the discussion of what we're looking at. Is it a photograph? Is it a painting? Is it both? Questions like these really spur fantastic discussion, which is what these tours are all about!
Table with Pink Tablecloth
Richard Artschwager (American)
1964
Formica on Wood
I'm a gigantic fan of this work. Yeah, it's a cube. Yes, it's geometric and abstracted. BUT if you go ahead and take a closer look at it, you'll notice that the brown is actually the negative space beneath the table. It's fun to explore and discover the way in which the illusion transforms the way in which you think about the object.
Hinoki
Charles Ray (American)
2007
Cyprus Carving
And then there's Hinoki. What is it? How was it made? How did it get here? Why carve a tree out of a tree? This work was one of the summer hits for the 2010 Museum Education Interns. We LOVE Hinoki. Yes, it's a challenge to talk about, and yes it's a bit of a struggle trying to get the students to stay about 3 feet away, but the discussion is always so rewarding.
Being Not Truthful Always Works Against Me (Edition 1/10)
Stephan Sagmeister (Austrian) & Ralph Ammer (German)
2006
Interactive Projection
And here's where the tour concludes. I am a firm believer in ending with a bang. This work not only teaches a lesson about fibbing, but also is great fun because it is interactive. Loosely based on Charlotte's Web, the well-meaning message spun into the web is part of a computer program that reacts and changes to one's shadows in the exhibition space. 

Basically, this tour would have ruled if I had the time to write and research each of these objects. I hope that a future docent or intern might take inspiration from this little tour that never was...

The Powers of Perception...


Maya introducing the students to the touch gallery


Adrienne discussing Dan Flavin's One of May 27, 1963, 1963

As our time here at the museum comes to a close, we’ve been thinking about the tours we’ve found most rewarding. Maya, Jen, Adrienne and I were assigned to give a tour to high school students from the Blind Service Association. I was a little nervous about giving this tour because honestly, I didn’t really know what to do. So to prepare for the tour we talked with a few staff members that had done similar tours in the past and scoured the Education Resource Center for ideas. A few days before the tour we decided to walk around the museum paying special attention to four of our senses: smell, taste, sound, and touch. We were astounded at what we discovered! There are so many pieces in the museum that require more senses than just looking. Here is a run-down of our Powers of Perception tour…



(Mary D.) Our tour began with bringing the twelve students and four chaperones into Griffin Court, the main entrance of the Modern Wing. Since I love the design of the Modern Wing, I thought it was important for the students to understand more about the space they were standing in, even if they couldn’t see it. Smell, sound, and touch all played a really big role for the entire tour, and these senses worked really well for understanding architecture! First I had them tell me what they sensed in the space around them. I was bombarded with a dozen answers! They were telling me “It must be big, because everything echoes,” and “The air is a lot colder and more open in here.” Thought that could sense light said, “The ceiling must be glass, because it’s much brighter when I move my head upwards.”
Next we headed outside to Pritzker Garden. I asked them what the differences were from the inside of the building. They caught on that it used the same flooring and that the only thing that separated inside for outside was a large glass wall. They loved listening to Louise Lawler’s sound piece, Birdcalls. Lawler squaks the names of artists in the modern wing to make them sound like birds.This was a piece that we didn’t know about until we listened closely! Here's a clip of the same piece installed at the lily pond of the Huntington Library:



(Adrienne) Going into my piece on the blind tour I was a bit worried because it was the only piece we planned that is purely visual…or so I thought. I spoke about Dan Flavin’s florescent light piece “One of May 27, 1963” and had the kids come very close. Probably too close, blind people see with their hands and when I asked if they could sense anything around them one girl reached directly in front of her and held onto the vertical florescent light.

Other than that mishap, I think the talk was successful. A few kids who did have some level of sightedness were able to tell the others that the light was red while the ones who could not see and were standing close to the pieces could sense the warmth of the light and the buzz of the electricity. It was very interesting to experience a light piece in this way. Flavin’s objective is too create an environment with the light and I had never thought about sensing that environment with any other sense than sight.

(Maya) After Jen helped the students explore the Felix Gonzales Torres Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) candy piece and a video installation, I led the group towards the touch gallery under the grand staircase. Leading students through Alsdorf gallery was a bit of a challenge! Luckily, Renzo designed this gallery to have a wide, open pathway on its south end, so students moved through the space a little more easily. Once we reached the end of Alsdorf, we arrived at a few steps. I quickly learned a good trick: count the stairs for students first! This worked pretty well until we made it to the set of stairs just under the Grand Staircase, where students pretty much just had to hold on the railing and help each other.

I’d also like to mention how impressed I was by the group’s museum navigational skills. The Blind Service Association group is made up of 40 percent of students who can see some color and shape, and 60 percent of students who are fully blind. The chaperones are also either partially or fully blind. In this case, students who had partial sight would lead fully blind students and chaperones through the museum and visa versa.

Upon entering the gallery, the group was thrilled to discover that they could touch the objects and even read wall text in brail! I began my part of the tour by going though my very structured lesson plan—asking one open-ended question after the other and hoping to guide their thinking and reach a conclusion. Mid-way through this process, I decided to change gears and just let the students explore the space themselves. We were lucky enough to have one student who understoood brail, so she read the text aloud to the rest of us as we felt the sculptures. My experience with the Blind Service Association was one of my most rewarding here at the Art Institute. We certainly learned to experience the museum in a new and profound way that did not involve seeing. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to co-lead this tour with such incredible fellow interns here at the AIC this Summer!

Separated at birth?


Alex Katz, Vincent and Tony 1969