At the entrance to the current exhibition Endless House: Intersections of Art and Architecture is Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House (1947–60). He envisioned this eclectic, flexible habitat as “a living organism, not just an arrangement of dead material.” He saw the house as a composition of spaces “as elastic as the vital functions.” A selection of drawings features his exhaustive investigation of forms for it, drawings which, through his lively use of ink and superimposition of multiple sketches on transparent overlays, approach animation. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Surrealism’
How do artists seek, find, or create inspiration?
As an artist/educator, I often find myself gathering inspiration for my own work from my experiences teaching in the galleries. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the nature of collaboration, and looking back to art historical examples to inform my own thinking.
Thinking back, I realized that the exhibition Dada at MoMA in 2006 was one of the first times this idea clicked for me. I remember being intrigued by how many of the exercises these artists were playing with over 100 years ago are still so relevant to the kind of teaching experiences I develop today. And after putting those techniques to use in my classes, I was also struck by how inspired I was as an adult to replicate and try out some of those same devices that had brought artists like Jean Arp, Man Ray, and Duchamp such a wealth of creative potential. I was impressed by how human these games made these distant “Artist” figures seem; by humanizing them their work became easier to understand and allowed me to layer some of their creative thinking and processes onto my own.
In my own work, I find it most inspiring to create constraints—mostly with materials, some self-imposed, some borne out of necessity —and work within them. How can I use what I have at hand, or can find for cheap, to realize a vision? Or when I find myself without vision, sometimes just playing with materials and making something– anything– in the studio can generate an exciting idea that then grows into larger concept and artwork later on.
When I was asked to come up with a Studio Immersion course for MoMA, I knew I wanted to explore these ideas with other adults, and experiment with how these forced collaborations, set criteria, and new materials might create an interesting dynamic within the class and inspire participants to expand their own practice outside the classroom. For one example, I love the Niki de Saint Phalle piece that was recently on view, Shooting Painting American Embassy (1961)—which the artist created by arranging packets of paint and food on a canvas, covering them with layers of plaster, and then asking collaborators to shoot at the canvas and release the paint—and that work prompted me to research other forms of playful, performative processes artists before and after her have employed.
The Dadaists and Surrealists fit in exactly with this theme of playful processes. Of course I knew about exquisite corpse drawings and automatic poetry, but, as I researched more, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of materials and techniques they implemented. Paint-based techniques were also used, such as Bulletism—a technique where ink is shot at a blank piece of paper and the artist then develops images based on the marks left behind. I can’t wait to get some willing experimenters involved with this!
This is just one example of many historical processes I’ve dug up for this course, and a few that I’ve created for us to play around with. So for those of you who might be thinking, “I’m not an artist,” or “I can’t draw,” or any other number of doubting thoughts, Mind Games will give you the chance to think like a Surrealist and let your subconscious be your guide. Break some rules and come draw outside the lines with me!
Class starts October 22. For more information, please visit MoMA.org/courses.
As an educator at MoMA, one of the projects I have the most fun with is the Family Art Workshops. Workshops are programs where a museum educator leads a group through both a gallery experience and a hands-on art-making activity in a studio. I look forward to planning these, because usually museum educators do a lot of independent lesson planning, but for the workshops we get to work in teams. I’ve always loved collaborative brainstorming, so working together on these projects exercises that part of my brain. This fall, I put my head together with fellow Family Programs Educators Shannon Murphy, Keonna Hendrick, and Lynn Seeney to plan a workshop called Dreamscapes.
Our challenge was to make René Magritte’s work approachable for the workshop’s target age of four- to six-year-olds and their accompanying adults. Each educator teaching the workshop over the course of several weeks would do things slightly differently, but our general plan was to take families into the Magritte exhibition to discover how he painted everyday objects and made them strange or transformed in a variety of ways. After looking at and discussing a few paintings, we would head down to the studio to make Magritte-inspired Surrealist collages with cut shapes and patterned papers.
Our supplies were ordered, and we were ready to go, but there was one hiccup in our plans. By the time we hit late November/early December when our workshops were set to take place, the exhibition galleries were so crowded with Magritte devotees that we couldn’t reasonably expect groups of 20 kids and adults to maneuver through the space or sit on the floor to focus on paintings together.
Time for Plan B.
Having a Plan B ready to go quickly and smoothly is the name of the game when you’re a museum educator, and we had a seasoned team of flexible educators contributing to this workshop. Luckily, we’re working at MoMA, where there is no shortage of great art, so we were able to shift our focus to some of the Surrealist works in the fifth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries. Thanks to the work of Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio de Chirico, and Salvador Dalí, we were able to get families to notice some of the main ideas—such as altering the way objects function, or compositional choices that create surreal spaces—that would help them collaborate on their own collage-style dreamscapes.
In the end, they may not have seen the Magritte paintings we’d originally intended to show, but the families who participated got to learn about transforming objects and settings to change a typical landscape into a mysterious dreamscape. And their collages would do any of the Surrealists proud, if you ask me.
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
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
Halloween at my high school was never boring. The classic 1980 movie Fame was inspired by NYC’s La Guardia HS, and was pretty accurate: you would indeed hear gospel singing in a music room above you during homeroom, see young actors heatedly rehearsing scenes in the hallways, and the art students—ah, the art students. I knew them well as I was among them. Some were mind-bogglingly prodigious, and perhaps as a result, Halloween proved to be a way to show off the skillz that would surely later in life pay the billz. Case in point: Tristan Elwell’s costume one year.
When I saw the above photo again after lo, so many years (please also note the existence of not one, not two, but three mullets behind Tristan), I felt the inevitable surge of nostalgia, and also a sense of synchronicity. The Magritte exhibition had just begun, and as such my head was full of green apples and bowler hats.
I found myself wondering what other Magritte-ian things were out there. As it so happens, Anne and Danielle, the curators of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938, had already done their own Internet searching and found several clever and charming things like this:
Of course, people aren’t only riffing on The Son of Man.* The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) is equally well-known, if not more so.
In fact, even the cover of the book I was reading at the time happened to reflect this beloved painting.
But I have to admit this last one, inspired by the spooky and haunting The Lovers, is my favorite of these. Not as spooky and haunting as the real thing, but not exactly a laugh riot, either, these parking lot lovers managed to create their own work of art. And as we all know, Plastic Bags Are Not a Toy. How riskily romantic of them!
And then I stumbled upon Andrea K. Scott’s article in the New Yorker, in which she declared “Magritte’s art has been hijacked…from the Beatles’ record label to a Volkswagen ad to a bowler-hat light fixture.” Hijacked is a strong word, Ms. Scott! After all, Magritte’s art isn’t the first to inspire inventive takeoffs.
See a few more Magritte tributes on our recently launched MoMA Tumblr.
* Son of Man is not on view in MoMA’s current exhibition, as it was painted in 1964, after Magritte’s breakthrough years. However, The Lovers and The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) are.
A couple of weekends ago I walked around Manhattan’s Lower East Side in silence, holding a postcard with a rectangular hole cut out of it in front of me, seeing the city anew through a cardboard window. I was being led around by two artists on a “silent performative tour” of the area Read more
One of the little-known highlights in the collection of the Department of Drawings is our vast array of artists’ sketchbooks, which range from intimate diaristic notations and markings, to explicit studies for complete works in other mediums, to accomplished works unto themselves, rendered as carefully and thoughtfully as paintings, for example, of the same subject matter.
This past May we received, as a gift, an outstanding example of an artist’s sketchbook. Enrico Donati, who passed away last year at the age of 99, was considered to be “the last of the Surrealists.” His wife, Adele Donati, approached the Museum about donating one of his sketchbooks to the collection. Read more
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