Imagine yourself standing in a dark, cavernous space: a perfectly square room with a high ceiling and black walls so dark that the clean, glossy white floor seems suspended in space. In the center of the room a tall metal tower beams light and emits the robotic sounds of computer-controlled motors. Read more
CATEGORY: BEHIND THE SCENES
In the summer of 2014 the Department of Painting and Sculpture approached sculpture conservation to inquire if Bruce Conner’s work CHILD could be restored. CHILD was created in 1959 as a response to the sentencing of death-row inmate Caryl Chessman who had been incarcerated for the kidnapping and sexual molestation of a woman in Los Angeles. Conner responded to this high-profile capital punishment case and his visceral repulsion to it by creating a frightening sculpture of a deformed corpse-like child. Made from casting wax, the figure appears strapped to a wooden highchair with belt and twine, the head tilted backwards with a gaping or screaming mouth, and body veiled in torn and stretched nylon stockings. Read more
Looking at the exhibition Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, one can immediately sense how strikingly modern the artworks feel, even after 120 years. Organized by senior curator Jodi Hauptman and curatorial assistant Heidi Hirschl, the show features the artist’s experimental and radical works that have rarely been attached to the widely conceived notion of “Degas” (two words: pink tutus). Read more
Creating spaces for free, hands-on art experiences is a cornerstone of the educational and artistic philosophies guiding our work within Teen and Community Partnerships here at MoMA. For far too many young people living in NYC, the idea of pursuing (or even exploring) a career in the arts can seem frivolous, intimidating, and, ultimately, unattainable. Add the high cost of undergraduate and graduate education to these gaps in basic accessibility and the difficulties young artists face are compounded exponentially. With these ideas in mind, this season saw MoMA Teens working with the staff and community of artists from Bruce High Quality Foundation University, or “New York’s freest art school,” as they aptly describe themselves. Set up as an introductory “art school for people who hate school,” the 10-week program they developed has taken the participating teens through the strange, scary, and oftentimes outlandish world of a college-level fine arts degree, as seen through the wonderfully distorted BHQFU lens. Below Andrea and Sean, our two BHQFU collaborators, share their experiences here so far.
—Calder Zwicky, Assistant Director for Teen and Community Partnerships, MoMA
For the past season, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University has had the pleasure of working with 25 incredibly sharp teenagers from across the five boroughs of New York City. In a world that has robbed many of them and their peers of a stable, prosperous future, we’re learning together about the social and political power of art.
And they’re all about it.
Each week, we invited a Bruce family member to lead a guest workshop outlining their studio working methods, political motivations, and cultural influences. This resulted in a crash course of sorts, a hyper-accelerated BFA experience that not only showed how art is made, but why art is made and for whom. The best part has been, our students got to experience all of this for free, thanks to this incredible program, MoMA’s In the Making teen art courses. At the end of each class, participants earned a merit badge celebrating the techniques and concepts they’d learned to add to their BHQFU camo vests. We’re earning them, too, and we’ll all have pretty killer art education maps on our backs at the exhibition opening on April 15.
We learned about Institutional Critique + Critical Pedagogy through a brief history of the Bruce High Quality Foundation and BHQFU that culminated in a group “sculpture tackle” of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE work located a few blocks from MoMA. Rapper and visual artist James Allister Sprang (AKA GAZR), himself an alumnus of the MoMA Teens Apprentice Educator program, showed us the connection between Performance Art + Pop Art, challenging us to incorporate personal narrative and critiques of popular culture into our art. Queens-based sculptor Anne Wu encouraged us to see the human touch evident everywhere in the urban environment of New York, and how to translate sketches of the world around us into three-dimensional sculptural objects. Eamon Monaghan shared the secrets of his DIY Video + Set Design process as we learned how to construct miniature film sets and how to splice ourselves into them using the green-screen method. Continuing that DIY theme, the artist collective Packet Biweekly discussed the political value of Artist Books + Self-Publishing, working with us to knock out a brand new collaborative artist book in a single class session. We deconstructed, figuratively and literally, imagery from mass media, reconfiguring those images to reflect our individual perspectives through a Collage + Media Literacy workshop with artist Ariel Jackson. And we tapped into the other side with Orlando Estrada, whose Psychic Intuition + Alchemy class taught us relief mold sculpture techniques hinged on improvisation and drawing exercises encouraging us to find a sixth sense.
Consistently, our students have expressed their discontent with the way things are in the world—justifiably so! It’s easy to get jaded, right? But the thing is: none of them are jaded. They’re fired up and they’re making plans. Collectively and individually, they’re beyond driven. They are demanding an alternative future. BHQFU is equally fired up as we see in action the inarguable value of accessible art education. Our students are unafraid of speaking truth to power, of dismantling structures designed to marginalize them. Each of them is in possession of a truly unique voice and perspective, and they’ve learned the skills to amplify that voice through creating art.
Join us on April 15 for the opening of the In the Making: Spring 2016 Teen Art Show. We’re so fortunate to have met the next generation of merry pranksters and political dissidents. We can’t wait to show you what each of them can do.
For Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, MoMA commissioned Katharina Gaenssler to create a photo-mural right outside the exhibition galleries on the third-floor platform of the Museum’s Bauhaus Staircase, which is inspired by Walter Gropius’s famous staircase in the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. Gaenssler photographed that stairway, as well as two works that reference it, both in MoMA’s collection: Bauhaus Stairway (1932) by Oskar Schlemmer and Bauhaus Stairway (1988) by Roy Lichtenstein. She collaged the resulting thousands of pictures together in an installation that explores the relationship between MoMA and the influential modernist school, tracing the history of the Bauhaus’s monumental contribution to the history of art and architecture through works of imitation and homage. In the process, she adds a new artwork to this lineage. Read more
From an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing in 1929, MoMA’s collection has bloomed to nearly 200,000 works across six curatorial departments—Painting and Sculpture, Drawings and Prints, Media and Performance Art, Photography, Film, and Architecture and Design—including everything from Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) to Maya Deren’s lush film Meshes of the Afternoon Read more
Pablo Picasso’s Glass of Absinthe is a series of six sculptures created in the first half of 1914. The sculpture depicts a drinking glass with the front cut away to reveal the liquid inside, and perched on the rim is a sugar cube atop an absinthe spoon. Each is painted differently on an identical bronze form. For the current exhibition Picasso Sculpture (through February 7), they are shown together for the first time since they were cast and painted, offering a unique opportunity for study and comparison. Read more
As I’ve been going through the architectural models in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archive—in preparation for future display—I’ve seen all kinds of condition problems, from acidified paper, to warped and crushed elements, to losses and detachments. But this is not too surprising. Unlike more traditional museum objects like bronze sculptures or oil paintings, architectural models are utilitarian: they exist to articulate a design. Thus, their materials are more often selected for expediency than for longevity.
The painted wood and paperboard model for St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie Towers represents one of three apartment buildings Wright planned to build around St. Mark’s Church in New York’s East Village. Of the 19 models in the Archive, St. Mark’s Tower is undoubtedly in the worst condition; it has suffered just about every kind of damage I’ve seen among the models. It arrived acidified and embrittled, with approximately 50% of its exterior missing, its floors warped and separating, its wooden base and finial exhibiting large jagged losses, and every surface covered with an accumulation of dirt, cobwebs, and mouse droppings (see images below).
The St. Mark’s Tower model is arguably one of the most important models in the Archive. Had the project been realized in the early 1930s, it would have been Wright’s first skyscraper in New York City, and the first building in that metropolis with an all-glass exterior (beating out the Lever House and United Nations building by 20 years!). Though St. Mark’s Tower was never built, Wright exhibited the model frequently, into the early 1950s. (Price Tower, a later version of this building, the model for which is also included in the Archive, was built 20 years later in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.)
When loss to an object is as severe as it is to this model, conventional restoration techniques are brought into question: to introduce so much 21st-century material to an object from the early 20th century raises issues of originality and authenticity. In consultation with curators, a range of options were considered, from leaving the model incomplete and damaged, to restoring it entirely, to fabricating a whole new model. To strike a balance between restoring Wright’s vision and respecting the history of the object, we decided to restore it partially, leaving a quarter of it in its damaged state. From a specific angle, the model will look completely restored, but the unrestored portion will present primary evidence of the extent of the model’s loss and retain its material history. I will use materials in the restored sections that can be distinguished from the original, making the restorations reversible so that future generations can undo the additions if they so decide.
After extensive vacuuming and surface cleaning, the paperboard elements needed to be consolidated and reformed. For this task, I benefited from the expertise of our paper conservators, who advised me to use a combination of moisture, pressure, wheat-starch paste, and time to manipulate the model’s floors back into plane.
Replacement parts were cut from acid-free matboard. The thicker elements, such as the vertical window casings, were cut by hand. Creating these elements, which are repeated 468 times over the model, made for monotonous but meditative work (not unlike that undertaken in Wright’s studio, some 80 years ago). But I’ve been fortunate to work on this at a moment when it’s possible to also take advantage of new, time-saving technologies, like laser cutting, which was employed to cut the thinner elements such as the window mullions, and ink-jet printing, which I used to replicate repeated, hand-drawn pencil designs found on existing exterior walls.
After painting these parts with acrylic paint, I attached them to the model with a water-resoluble adhesive and a clamping system of cotton string loops.
I then applied the designs, printed on mulberry paper, which become transparent when saturated with adhesive.
This process has taken over 450 hours, 60 of which are condensed in this time-lapse video:
Now nearing completion, the restored model looks less like a ruin and more like an idea. In 2017, it will be exhibited for the first time in over half a century, allowing today’s visitors to gain insight into both Wright’s groundbreaking innovation and his working process. New Yorkers in particular may enjoy imagining how a trio of towering glassy structures would have transformed the landscape of the downtown lowlands.
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