July 24, 2012  |  Artists, Events & Programs
Masters of Puppets

Soft sculptures by LAND artists. Photo by Kyle Bowen

LAND (League Artists Natural Design) is a unique studio and gallery program of the League Education & Treatment Center in DUMBO, Brooklyn. At LAND, adult artists living with disabilities develop their skills in a nurturing environment, while their work is marketed to the community in a vibrant and inclusive manner. The work of LAND artists has been shown at the Outsider Art Fair, featured in The New York Times, and entered many private collections. Since 2009, Access Programs at MoMA and LAND have engaged in a creative collaboration that aims to connect LAND artists with MoMA’s collection and exhibitions, and also to challenge them to create work in new media. Masters of Puppets, an exhibition of work created throughout the past year in workshops facilitated by MoMA teaching artist Rebecca Goyette and LAND curator Matthew Bede Murphy, is currently on view in the Cullman Education Building at 4 West 54 Street (through August 8). The exhibition is open daily, 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Rebecca Goyette reflects on the partnership:

I remember the day I first walked in to LAND Gallery. When I feasted my eyes on all the extraordinary work the artists were making, I knew I was about to have an incredible experience. I have been honored and humbled to work with these amazing artists. Given their strength and experience in painting and drawing, this year I decided to challenge them to expand their comfort zones and try some media I enjoy: soft sculpture and performative video. Each artist at LAND has a rich vocabulary of mark making, symbolism, and and their own cast of imaginative characters. My question was, “How can we bring these characters to life?”

We started with soft sculpture. Each artist took out drawings and paintings of different characters, animals, or objects they like to draw so we could study their potential for three dimensions. Choosing whimsical robots, fancy ladies’ shoes, heavy metal singers, or hybrid animal forms, the artists made patterns and traced out their forms on fabric. Then, the whole LAND team got busy sewing, stuffing the forms so they could be painted an adorned. Characters were bedazzled and bejeweled; some were even given weaves of real hair. One animal form ended up over six feet long, a pair of women’s boots was made to stand past waist height. Every inch of space at the studio was taken over and everyone wanted to make more. Artist Jonathan Putz creates most of his work about his love for Miss Piggy and Kermit. When he was able to make Miss Piggy as a soft sculpture, he hugged her and smiled widely. His passion for a puppet becomes a metaphor for his relationship to art.

Artist Jonathan Putz with his soft sculpture. Photo by Carrie McGee

For the performative video project, we decided to create puppet shows with very simple means. The puppets were all made with brown lunch bags. Some artists created painted backdrops and costumes. We tried puppet shows without the puppeteer visible, but we were all more intrigued when the puppeteer was exposed and became a part of the piece.

Artist Kenya Hanley with the puppets he created. Photo by Carrie McGee

Kenya Hanley makes work based on a few things he really loves, including Reggae music, the community around him, and cakes and donuts. Naturally, he made a series of Rasta puppets, and he even made puppet portraits of me and Rachel Cohen, an art therapist at LAND. In makeup and costume, Rachel and I we were ready to help in case Kenya got shy. To our surprise and delight, Kenya turned out to be a natural performer. He can sing many Reggae songs from memory with perfect rhythm, but the best were his slow songs. “Redemption Song” brought down the house—Kenya knows exactly when to pause and looks the audience in the eye when he delivers a poignant line. He had us all captivated and teary-eyed. You can see this—and more—in Masters of Puppets. Don’t miss this exhibition before it closes on August 8.