MoMA Studio: Common Senses opened on September 24 in the mezzanine of MoMA’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building. This multisensory, interactive space is the result of weeks and months of hard work by collaborating artists J. Morgan Puett and Fritz Haeg; designer Karen Hewitt; gardeners Annie Novak, Emily Francois, and their teams; and educators and “atelieristi” from Reggio Emilia, Italy, together with a generous team of colleagues at MoMA who all contributed to bringing this ambitious project to fruition.
Drawing from some of the central themes and ideas in the Century of the Child exhibition, which considers the development of design, architecture, learning, and play for children throughout the 20th century, MoMA Studio: Common Senses was conceived as a learning environment that aims to provide a space for visitors of all ages to explore ideas at the intersection of design, art, and education in their own lives. The installations give visitors the opportunity to engage with a variety of elements including light, technology, food and nature, recycled materials, and toys and games, while fostering creative discovery and play. This free MoMA Studio space provides an open environment for participants to think about their relationship to the world and objects that surround them, and how they engage in creativity and play throughout their lives, from childhood to their development as adults.
Since traditionally, many of the objects and elements of a display in a museum exhibition cannot be touched, we felt it was important to create a space complementary to Century of the Child where immediate hands-on exploration and experimentation can take place. Our research shows that visitors seek out and deeply value participatory experiences—like that of MoMA Studios—which enable them to engage more deeply with the ideas in an exhibition.
On Monday, September 17, we received the first load of items from Mildred’s Lane and the Mildred Complex(ity), sent by artist J. Morgan Puett for installation of a “living archive” of unique objects that includes furniture, books, works of art, textiles, birds’ nests, beeswax sculptures, and more, all of which come from her working-living-researching artist community and experimental school based in rural Pennsylvania. In essence, Morgan transplanted a slice of her home to MoMA Studio, extending her generosity, hospitality, and resources for engaged learning to our museum community. She and her team found a place for the various parts of this interactive installation on one of the walls of the Cullman mezzanine. It will be activated over the next two months by fellow artists that will pass through MoMA Studio: Common Senses and engage with visitors in creative and unexpected ways.
On Tuesday, September 18, toy designer and educator Karen Hewitt arrived from Burlington, Vermont, with colleague Zach Woolard to install her project space, which invites visitors to channel creative play by making landscapes and building narratives using her vibrantly colored and carefully crafted wooden toy blocks. A variety of levels and surfaces offer multiple entry points for block construction and encourage children and adults alike to use their imaginations to envision and create their own buildings.
Colleagues from Reggio Emilia arrived Friday, September 21, from Italy to begin the installation of a light-projection atelier. Responsible for developing the pedagogical experience of the infant-toddler centers and preschools in this small city in northern Italy, Ilaria Cavallini and Simona Spiaggiari (with the collaboration of their savvy team of educators and artists at home) brought a new iteration of a project found in classrooms in Reggio to MoMA. Here at the Museum, we prepared for the installation by collecting recycled materials and eclectic objects—from disco balls to branches to toy figurines—and by painting other items of varying shapes, sizes, weights and textures white. Participants are already excited to get their hands on the displays. Here adults and children are invited to create new landscapes out of light and reflection, two- and three-dimensional space, tactile objects, and digital projections.
Landscapes have also been a theme in our collaboration with artist Fritz Haeg. We began working with him on his two-part project called Domestic Integrities Part A-1 this June when, along with a team of farmers and gardeners, we planted a garden of herbals, medicinals, vegetables, and pollinators in The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Since then, in addition to harvesting the garden (basil and cucumbers galore!), our team has been hoarding piles of colorful fabrics and discarded textiles in preparation for a marathon of hand crocheting. Atop this circular rug or Domestic Integrities Field, visitors can enjoy the fruits of our communities’ labor, indulge in the soft texture beneath their feet (no shoes here!), and take the moments we rarely allow ourselves to slow down, think, and talk with people familiar and new, while enjoying quotidian delights like herbal tea, breads, and jams. Rest, this vital complement to activity and play, is also a key component of our Studio.
With these projects we invite you to come to MoMA Studio: Common Senses to think about and discover the world around you!