I’ve racked up a lot of frequent flier miles working with The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project. My colleagues and I have had the great pleasure of traveling to places like Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Alexandria, Louisiana (population: 48,000) to facilitate training workshops on how to use art to engage individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Read more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
As part of my research for Artists Experiment, I went to MoMA to sit side by side with the volunteers that staff the information desks. I was not 100% sure what I would find, but my instincts told me that there was something interesting about the situation Read more
When visiting a museum, especially in New York City, it’s easy to wander around without pausing to look at specific works of art. After all, there’s so much to see and crowds to contend with. Read more
Teaching a workshop on art and game theory is the second cooperative venture Pablo Helguera and I have undertaken in the last couple of years. The first was a diet. Bear with me; the two are not unrelated. Frustrated with our personal efforts to shed a couple of pounds, we were ready for an experiment. A website offered a new set of motivations: We were required to report our weight to one another on a weekly basis, to allow our wives to monitor our progress, and (here is the kicker) we gave them our credit card information with the understanding that if we failed to lose the specified weight, we would automatically donate money to the National Rifle Association (NRA). How is this related? Game theory studies how and why people make decisions. Pablo and I wanted to lose weight but we also enjoyed eating —and the latter was prevailing, one dessert at a time. The structure of the diet added new elements to our decisions—our weight became public, our competitive natures were activated, and given our feelings about the NRA, our political and moral sense was now at stake in our menu decisions. No donations were made. The pounds melted away. It would have been a considerably different situation if the rules had been changed—for example if there were a slim and happy winner and a loser who ignominiously and publicly contributed to the NRA. Had we entered a diet with those rules we might have emerged even thinner, but as friends, we most likely would not have joined in the first place.
Game theory opens a set tools to think about rational and irrational decisions. These decisions are always conceived in terms of pairs and groups—otherwise they are not games—so we can begin to understand how we decide what to do in relation to other people. If we are interested in art that is relational, interactive, cooperative, or participatory perhaps we should look at this theory of relations. Pablo and I are not experts in game theory. But we both think games like the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Dictator Game, the Ultimatum Game, and others are interesting starting points for a discussion of interpersonal behavior. When played in public—as we intend to do in the class—the games have an interesting performative quality that can lead to a rich conversation on a topic we are quite conversant in—participatory, cooperative art. Quite frankly, as much as we have written about social practice art, this is a new field, and we are all still struggling to get a handle on how to think about it.
I’m looking forward to the workshop as an experiment in this emerging discussion and hope you will join us on October 22 and 24 at MoMA for Games Artists Play: The Game as a Socially Engaged Art Form.