Where Questions Go

Adam, Andre, Daquan, Dashawn, Duval, Jaquan, Joel, Lashawn, Pablo, Rashawn, Reggie, Rowlando, Timothy, Travis, and Tyre. Climbing the Gears of Life. 2009. Courtesy Bronx Residential Center and Artistic Noise

My colleague Lauren Adelman stopped by the reference desk a while back. “What do you have on murals?” she asked. I knew this would be interesting. Lauren works with MoMA’s Community and Access Programs, partnering with organizations involved with the criminal justice system. This is part of her broader work as New York Director of Artistic Noise. I was right: she was working with young men at the Bronx Residential Center to create a mural for their main entryway.

While looking for books, we talked about traditional murals and how they could inform a contemporary work. Lauren then “made a lot of copies of the books…and the participants researched the history of murals through those printouts.”

I recently asked her how it worked out.

“The final project was greatly inspired by a special field trip to MoMA. The teen boys became obsessed with José Clemente Orozco’s Dive Bomber and Tank (1940) and how that painting deals with oppression, and they included imagery from the painting in the bottom of their mural. They were really proud of it, and the center loves the painting. You can see Lauren in action with Dive Bomber and Tank in the video below:

The mural was so nice they did it twice: she then worked with teen girls at the Brooklyn Residential Center on another large-scale painting inspired in part by the 2010 MoMA exhibition William Kentridge: Five Themes.

I got to know Lauren through MoMA’s Teen Program, when I introduced the group to the Library’s Artists’ Books Collection, hoping to spark ideas for books that the kids would soon create themselves. (What’s an “artist’s book?” For some examples from the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, check out the 2008 exhibition Book/Shelf.)

All this inspired me to put together a session at this year’s Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference. It’s part of the New York Art Book Fair organized by the inimitable Printed Matter. In this session on Artists’ Books in the Juvenile Justice System, Lauren was joined by colleague Jessica Fenster-Sparber, School Librarian at Passages Academy.

I set up the session to ask questions of my own: What does making artists’ books offer to incarcerated kids? What challenges come with that? What kind of cool stuff are they turning out?

This is why it’s fun to be a reference librarian: you never quite know where a question will lead.

For more information about MoMA Library research projects and activities, please visit The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) website. NYARC consists of the research libraries of the Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, and The Museum of Modern Art. Visit Arcade, NYARC’s catalog, for your art research needs.