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CATEGORY: BEHIND THE SCENES

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Museum as Laboratory: Artists Experiment

What happens when the Museum turns into a laboratory for artists?

This year MoMA’s Department of Education invited artists Allison Smith, Paul Ramirez Jonas, and the creative collective The Office for Creative Research to be part of the second year of Artists Experiment, an initiative to develop public engagement experiences through collaboration with contemporary artists. Exploring MoMA’s history, resources, and spaces, each of these artists approaches the Museum like a laboratory—a place for thinking, collaborating, and experimenting with the museum experience and our visitors.

Allison Smith. Troops Drilling at Fort Jay, part of The Muster project. 2005. Photo: Amy Elliot

Allison Smith. Troops Drilling at Fort Jay, part of The Muster project. 2005. Photo: Amy Elliot

San Francisco–based artist Allison Smith’s work investigates the cultural phenomenon of historical reenactment, or “living history,” using it as a means of addressing the relationship between American history, social activism, and craft.

Paul Ramirez Jonas. Key to the City. 2010. Image courtesy of Paul Ramirez Jonas

Paul Ramirez Jonas. Key to the City. 2010. Image courtesy of Paul Ramirez Jonas

At MoMA, Allison is researching the history of the Department of Education, specifically exploring the work and programs developed by MoMA’s first director of education, Victor D’Amico. Allison is considering how MoMA’s rich history can speak to our current education practices, mining strategies and ideas from the past to inspire new experiences at the Museum today.

Brooklyn-based artist Paul Ramirez Jonas is interested in articulating shared stories and histories, working with and transforming different forms of public art and public symbols.

Paul has been looking at the visitor experience at MoMA, exploring public spaces designed for interaction including the bookstore and the Museum’s information desks.

He asks the question, how can we build on the visitor experience at MoMA.

New York–based collective The Office for Creative Research (O-C-R) includes artists and data experts Jer Thorp, Ben Rubin, and Mark Hansen, a multidisciplinary research group exploring new modes of engagement with data, through unique practices that borrow from science, technology, and the arts.

The Office of Creative Research. And That's The Way It Is. 2012. Image courtesy of the artists

The Office for Creative Research. And That’s The Way It Is. 2012. Image courtesy of the artists

O-C-R is looking at massive amounts of information from the Museum’s collection database. From image titles to notes on how to install a work, O-C-R is thinking about how this data can be explored and activated by Museum visitors to facilitate interaction, learning, and exchange.

What can you expect?

Throughout the winter and spring, Artists Experiment will present a range of programs and interactions developed with each of these artists. To kick things off, we invite you to join us for the January 29 launch event, Social Exchange: Artists’ Reception. This special event is a chance to meet the artists in person and get a little taste of what’s to come. The Office for Creative Research and Allison Smith are creating an interactive, performative work for the evening, and Chef Lynn Bound is preparing a special menu in collaboration with Paul Ramirez Jonas. We hope you’ll join us for this warm, winter celebration!

Look out for other upcoming Artists Experiment programs at MoMA.org/artistsexperiment.

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December 12, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement
Catalysts: Exploring Multimedia Art Online @ MoMA
Doug Aitken. sleepwalkers. 2007. Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, January 16–February 12, 2007

Doug Aitken. sleepwalkers. 2007. Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, January 16–February 12, 2007

This past fall, MoMA Courses Online launched Catalysts: Artists Creating with Video, Sound, and Time, a six-week survey of performance, video, and sound art created since 1960. As MoMA’s 12-month Digital Learning intern, I facilitated the production and monitored the progress of online courses, in addition to troubleshooting digital and technical issues. Read more

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Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose, 1927: Palette Unveiled

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators and conservation scientists have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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December 9, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement
Mapping Visitors in MoMA Studio: Sound in Space
Installation view of MoMA Studio: Sound in Space, with Joe McKay’s Light Wave

Installation view of MoMA Studio: Sound in Space, with Joe McKay’s Light Wave. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Since I began working at the Museum, every MoMA Studio has undergone a complete evaluation. Evaluation strategies include interviewing visitors, surveying participants, observing/tracking/timing visitors, using prompts to encourage responses on comment boards, facilitator reflections, and a few other participatory forms of data gathering. Read more

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December 2, 2013  |  MoMA Stores
Celebrate the Season with the MoMA Design Store

The holidays are upon us, and the MoMA Design Store is ready to help you celebrate with a wide selection of unique gifts that are sure to bring joy to everyone on your list. Just as the Museum continues to promote the values of good design through its awe-inspiring exhibitions, the MoMA Design Store strives to bring work that exudes quality, creativity, and innovation to everyday living. Read more

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Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin, 1927—Treatment and Research

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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November 11, 2013  |  Events & Programs, Learning and Engagement
MoMA Art Lab: Movement—Why Play with Spinning Tops and Tinker Toys?
Activity testing for MoMA Art Lab: Movement. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Activity testing for MoMA Art Lab: Movement. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Recently, Family Programs staff were interested in testing out some of the activities under consideration for MoMA Art Lab: Movement before it opened (on October 10, 2013). Formative evaluation is a “try it out” method that is less formal than other evaluation types. Read more

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Lettering Magritte
Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

For most graphic designers, typography is one of the most important, challenging, and seductive parts of graphic design. So when Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson, who organized the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary,1926–1938, suggested incorporating Magritte’s beautiful lettering style—or a version inspired by it—for the title wall design, I was, of course, very excited. I began my work on the project by researching and gathering samples of where Magritte’s lettering appeared, such as in his paintings La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), L’Apparition (The Apparition), and Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask).

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. L'apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16" (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. L’apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16″ (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide The Empty Mask. 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4" (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask). 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4″ (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

There were many variations from one artwork to another: some had greater contrast of thick and thin, others were more condensed, and there were perceptible shifts in stroke weight—largely due to the proportion of sizes between the brush and the letters he was drawing. Yet, it surprised me to see how incredibly consistent his letterforms were. The letter “p,” for example, the most notably unique character in his alphabet, always had an open counter, and looked like an “n” with a prolonged stem. The end of the letter “s” consistently looped inwards into a soft twirl that finished with a small, delicate node.

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Detail of the letters “p” and “s” from a Magritte painting

To say that my first attempts were not quite there is an understatement.

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The author’s lettering experients

It took dozens of variations, testing, tweaks, and just plain old graphic designer obsession to get it to a point that felt right and captured the elegant, rhythmic, and gestural quality of Magritte’s original lettering. When I got stuck on how to resolve a particular transition between letters—for example, between the “B” and “r” in Brussels—I would go back to my research and sure enough, Magritte was there to give me a helping hand.

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Detail of the letters “b” and “r” from a Magritte painting

My finished lettering is used in five places throughout the exhibition. Taken out of it’s familiar context in Magritte’s paintings, it now functions as signage that both guides visitors through the galleries and draws them in.

Close up of the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

The exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Close up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries

Close-up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries. Shown: René Magritte. The Menaced Assassin. Brussels, 1927. Oil on canvas, 59 1/4″ x 6′ 4 7/8″ (150.4 x 195.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2013 Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Martin Seck

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The Discovery of Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose

As indicated in the previous post in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926–1938. Read more

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October 18, 2013  |  Artists, Learning and Engagement
Walk Like a Surrealist

In regard to poetry, modernist poet Ezra Pound repeatedly urged his fellow practitioners to “Make It New.” Working in counterpoint to the tradition of the guided city tour, my participatory walks take their cue from poetry, where writer and reader collaborate in creating and gleaning new meanings for the world. Tuning in to the nuances of the everyday, we might make visual poems on the sidewalk with found objects, a duet with light, or monuments with our bodies in response to civic statues in public space.

“Pipe Dream” is a new walk debuting at MoMA on Saturday, November 16. It’ll take us down seldom-seen Museum hallways, through the Magritte exhibition, and outside into the sensory tangle of midtown Manhattan. Drawing from Surrealist techniques, we will create within, and rediscover, a neighborhood often cast off as one that only serves big business and rigorous consumers. But since the walk is essentially a set of prompts and reveals, I don’t want to give away too much! Come experience it for yourself.

You can also experience “Pipe Dream” as part of Into the Participatory Walk, a three-session workshop at MoMA that begins on Thursday, November 7. There, we’ll explore poetic decision making and figure out how to create a participatory walk together. I’ll be hosting a “dress rehearsal” of “Pipe Dream” when the Museum is closed as part of the workshop.

"Our Open Studios" by Todd Shalom

“Our Open Studios” by Todd Shalom. Photo courtesy of Elastic City

I’ve been leading participatory walks for 10 years, arriving to this form after studying poetry and sound. Over time, my poems increasingly strained against the confines of the page and became more like musical scores, so I had to create a new medium. I discovered the work of the Acoustic Ecology movement and their soundwalks, which facilitate active listening in the environment. Adopting some of their techniques and applying a lot of my own creation, I led my first sound-based walk in San Francisco in 2003.

In 2010 I founded Elastic City, a New York–based non-profit organization that commissions artists to lead participatory walks throughout the world. I quietly collaborate with the artists, many of whom work in visual media, and help them to adapt their talents to the walk form. I might assist the artist in solidifying a walk concept, planning a route, shaping the arc of the walk, or tweaking a particular moment.

"You Name It" by Todd Shalom

“You Name It” by Todd Shalom. Photo: Christian Kaye

Every artist, every medium, and every object or situation we encounter offers a multiplicity of contextualizing frames and potential lenses with which to look at them. My walks try to get us inside of as many frames and to use as many lenses as possible to get at a whole new reality, if only momentarily. We all have the ability to rearrange our relationships to the world and to one another. After leading “Fabstractions” (see the video above), I’ll just say that I now look at telephone booths very differently.