Guest post by Jackie Terrassa
Three more weeks at the Clark Institute of Art in Williamstown.
Since 2010, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation has funded an annual museum education summer fellowship at the Clark. Five other scholars in art history—all curators or professors—are also here this summer as part of the Clark’s fellowship program. We get a private office with a view of trees, a few hours a week of support from a research assistant, access to the Clark’s fabulous library, plus an apartment that is larger than my own in New York City.
But what we really get are hills, ponds, green—lots of green. Time for pause and concentration. This is quite rare, especially in museum education. We have all become masters of the art of mixing life and work, 24/7, or rather crowding life with work. It’s an endurance test.
My focus here? To kick-start the formal planning year of what will hopefully become a major, national research study. This collaborative project has been taking shape since 2010 as an initiative of the Museum Education Division of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), which I direct until my term ends in 2015; the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) recently joined us as partners. Four years ago, a group of museum educators decided to do something about a startling fact: that in spite of all of those field trips that happen every day at art museums nationwide, in spite of evaluation studies of specific programs at different institutions, we as a field don’t have any rigorous, broadly generalizable information about how people benefit from art museum experiences. And yet we in this community of the art world and museum education believe that young people should have the chance to physically go to art museums, spend time with great art as part of their school day, create or make sense of these works of art on their own terms, and also enjoy these experiences with their friends and families, outside of school. We also believe that while these experiences might be beneficial because they somehow improve test scores or help school retention, they are actually valuable because of deeper, more complex, more important, and more human reasons. But we have little to prove this. This disconnect between what we believe, what we do, and what we actually know makes us weak in the eyes of funders, school administrators, and government officials, especially in today’s evidence-based educational environment. It also means that, without a strong research basis, our own practice as educators suffers.
This led us to develop a research framework and conduct some initial focus groups with educators. Now, with funds from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, we are staring to work with a research firm to design a study that will address this question: What are the benefits to K-12 students of object-based experiences in art museums with original works of art as part of their regular school day?
Answering the question is quite difficult. We have to first devise criteria for a type of field trip that happens often enough at big and small art museums across the country, in rural and urban communities, and that is based on some understanding in the field about what constitutes good practice. We also have to define the grade range (elementary? high school?) and clarify our hypothesis about how students may benefit from these experiences, including social, affective, cognitive and creative dimensions. Finally, we have to establish criteria for selecting the museum sites and school districts where the study will take place and begin to develop the methodology of the study. And we have to fundraise for the study. To inform our thinking and contextualize the project, we are conducting a literature review that includes studies on field trips in general, impact studies about visual arts experiences, and texts on interpretive theory and museum education. And that is all before the study can begin.
Over the last few weeks, I have spent a good part of my time wrapping up the process of selecting our research partners as well as shaping the literature review–establishing a framework for what to include, identifying key texts and other relevant documents, and also reading and building an annotated bibliography. This work will continue over the next three week as I also begin planning in earnest with our research team.
This fellowship experience is far from a vacation. The truth is I am working just as hard, balancing Met upkeep hours and NAEA-AAMD research, plus a handful hours toggled between reviewing grant proposals for a foundation and securing contractors or talking to a real estate agent about property still owned, soon to be sold, in Chicago.
What is radically different is the outlook, the change of pace and place. Sometimes quiet, green, and alone is what one needs.
Jackie Terrassa is the Managing Museum Educator for Gallery and Studio Programs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and, until 2015, directs the Museum Education Division of the National Art Education Association. This summer she is the Kress Summer Fellow in Museum Education at the Clark Institute of Art. At the Met she leads a range of public programs that engage people of all ages and backgrounds with original works of art and that may also involve artists and art-making. She cut her teeth in art administration and programming at the Hyde Park Art center; after which she worked in various roles at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago; served as Head of Planning at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; and led public programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. She has written and presented on art and art education, taught museum education, and served on advisory groups and panels, including those of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Terra Foundation for the Arts, and the Joyce Foundation.
Sad news for all of us who knew him.
From Philip von Zweck…
Jim suffered a heart attack while waiting for a bus to work on July 27 in Taiwan, where he’d lived for four years with his wife Zen “Mimi” Lulu; they’d been married just under a year.
Jim completed a BA in English in Seattle University in 1995 He then relocated to Chicago to pursue a BFA and then an MFA from School of the Art Institute Chicago. While in graduate school he was so broke that, against policy, he secretly lived in his SAIC-provided studio. He befriended the security staff, learning their routines so he could hide his sleeping mat and hot plate in the storage cabinet when they came through for inspection.
As an artist, Jim was interested in wonder and discovery and in demystifying art itself. He may best be known for his Two Foot Square art gallery, which he set up in parks and other public spaces to engage the casual passersby in a discussion about art. He was also known for his long-running project with Hui-min Tsen, The Mount Baldy Expedition. Inspired by historic voyages during the Age of Discovery, they built a boat to sail from Chicago to the Mt. Baldy sand dune in Indiana.
To make a living, Jim did what many young artists do: he was a preparator and mount builder. He worked at the Smart Museum of Art and in other exhibition spaces before site-managing SAIC’s G2 (later Sullivan Galleries). He later became the galleries’ Exhibition Manger. It may be in this work that Jim’s greatest legacy lies, for somewhere in his job description was the one word that kept him coming back, despite the stressful work, low pay and occasional verbal abuse by a sleep-deprived students with no concept of how to install a video projector; and that word was mentor.
Jim was a recognizable figure on State Street, where he took his breaks in his Sox cap, horn rimmed safety glasses, Carhartt shorts, tucked-in, oversized t-shirt and work boots, chain-smoking Reds and elegantly balancing his cup of coffee on top of his thermos.
He loved baseball, Iggy Pop, the Cramps, cooking and the work of Tehching Hsieh. He often tried to get me to accompany him to tango lessons: the man loved to tango. He also loved to regale anyone who would listen with tales of the chaos caused by the Monkey King from the classic Chinese novel The Journey to the West. To the chagrin of the administration, Jim made the Monkey King the unofficial mascot of Sullivan Gallery.
Most nights after work Jim would say, “Let’s get a quick one,” which we both know would be neither quick nor just one. Over whiskey at the Exchequer, George’s, or the L&L, where Jim had been a regular for years, talk would inevitably turn to our student workers: “the crew,” then “the kids” and by the end of the night, “my kids.”
He loved his “kids” and taught them all he could—not just about hanging art, but also about being an artist and a stand-up person in the world. Jim assembled not a team of student workers, but a family. Through his work he impacted the lives of countless SAIC students, the crew and every student who exhibited in the gallery, which means pretty much every graduating student. Jim missed the good parts of SAIC, and for many of us, he was certainly one of them.
Jim is survived by his wife Ye Mimi, his mother, the cowboys, SAIC, countless friends around the globe, and of course by his “kids.”
Philip von Zweck
Good god damn, summer in Chicago! The storms, the ‘fests, the beautiful bodies, the fruit flies, and most of all the regular monthly blog posts. This year’s most tolerable season in Chicago has brought with it plenty of new beginnings and other moves: artists, having used up their two year grace period after grad school, are making their destined migrations to one coast or another; galleries are closing, opening, and relocating; and rents are increasing everywhere. Together, you and I will track these changes, along with all what other what there is in What You Should Have Noticed in July.
At Julius Caesar, Torches Pass to New Management
Shakeup at the independent gallery Julius Caesar as local artist and professor Dana DeGiulio has officially left her position as the gallery’s co-operator. I suppose she’s still co-founder, along with the other originals: Diego Leclery, Colby Shaft, Hans Peter Sundquist, and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. Chris Naka is also leaving the gallery’s directorial board. According to the exit letter posted by DeGiulio on July 20th, management of Julius Caesar will pass to Maddie Reyna and Levi Budd, both recent MFA graduates from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. May the new blood take.
Other shuffles were written up by Jason Foumberg for an article at NewCity: Jessica Cochran is leaving the Center for Book & Paper Arts for the private sector, Jamilee Polson Lacy is saying goodbye for a sweet gig at the Providence College Galleries in Rhode Island, Joel Keunnen is leaving ArtSlant Chicago for ArtSlant New York City, and Cortney Lederer is leaving Chicago Artist Coalition for her own venture, CNL Art Consulting; you can check the article for the rest and more. More bad news too - Edie Fake is leaving for Los Angeles! And Sofia Leiby for somewhere else! And Kate Ruggeri for Yale! Madeleine Bailey is out too! Julia Hendrickson is already in Austin! This happens every year!
In darker news, scientists at Surrey Nanosystems made headlines this month by revealing their latest product: Vantablack, or nanotube black, a coating of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes capable of absorbing more than 99.85% of light, thereby creating the blacking black to ever black. While artistic applications are still forthcoming, you might imagine a cross between a Katharina Fritsch and those monsters from Attack the Block: a sculpture as shifting silhouette, flattened into two dimensions by the absence of interior lights and shadows, like a black hole in illuminated space.
Genesis Art Supply Moving
In lighter news, the family owned retailer Genesis Art Supply, beloved to Logan Square and the blue line neighborhoods, will be moving from its endearingly crowded space at Western and Fullerton to new and bigger digs on Elston, near the Riverfront Plaza – you know, by the big Target! Set for an October ribbon cutting, the new space will provide later hours, more parking, and a brand switch to ArtSupply.com, owner Rich Goldman’s longtime online storefront (and where I purchased the very same desk where I am currently typing this article). The current location at 2517 N. Western Avenue is having deep cut sales, so be sure to go notice the hell out of it before the good stuff is gone.
Peanut Gallery Moving
In darker news again, Peanut Gallery is leaving its convenient home beside the California Clipper in Humboldt Park, after being forced out by new development in the area. The funky studio collective / exhibition space, led by Charlie Megna and Kelly Reaves, will be replaced by a cozy pie and ice cream space, a generous move by landlord Gio Battaglia to satisfy the city’s need for more independently run, alternative venues for emerging dessert culture. While the gallery is seeking to relocate (perhaps to Logan Square? But that’s some T for some other article), the other victim of the same neighborhood vitality it basically created out of blight or at least obscurity, Knockbox Cafe, will be shuttered this fall forever.
Obituaries: On Kawara
This month we learned that Japanese artist and quiet pillar of Conceptual art, On Kawara, passed away in late June in New York City. Most famous for his meditative date paintings, produced in a maximum of one day on various days in the artist’s life, as well as for his earlier and perpetually haunting “I am still alive” telegrams, Kawara’s passing marks both the end of a life and the end of an art more intimately tied to life than most.
Chicago Cultural Center Unveils DCASE Residency
You know, because I publish this article on the last Friday of every month, I court the possibility of months like this one, where the article falls on the earliest possible Friday of the month, the 25th, meaning I’m really only sharing what you should have noticed in three and a half weeks. I worry that Saturday morning will have some big news – like maybe the opening of another Ed Paschke Art Center – and history will wonder why I’d left it out. Other times, like right now for example, I’m glad that I can reward the present and direct your noticing eyes to a subject before it is too late: the DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, also known as the Studio Artist and Curatorial Residency Program. The program looks fantastic, offering six residencies (either public or private) along with two curatorial fellowships to artists at all levels of their career. Both residencies come with the support of the Cultural Center (technical, promotional, and PR), a $2,000 / month stipend for three months, and more. While big news for the present – you still have six days left! – the residency is also perhaps the first really major investment in the city’s visual arts from DCASE, which formed in 2012 from the slaughtered slurry of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. Cheers for the new program, and good luck to the applicants.
Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Artist Housing Open for Applications
Are you an artist of some kind? Theaster Gates is looking for thirty two tenants at the Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative, his new Grand Crossing artist’s housing and studio compound on Chicago’s south side. Check out details at Rebuild Foundation, or call (773) 324-2270.
And that’s it! Other notable mentions include those weak ass white flags in Brooklyn (project whatever meaning you wish upon them), Jaume Plensa‘s new and pretty impressive addition to Chicago’s Millenium Park (which already features giant heads by Plensa in his Crowd Fountain sculpture), wars, and Rokudenashiko’s 3D-printed vagina scandal in Japan. Until next month, keep watching the skies!
Curated by John Marks and David Petersen, with work by Luke Aleckson, Allen Brewer, Casey Deming, Kristina Estell, Katelyn Farstad, Isa Gagarin, Peter Happel Christian, Jess Hirsch, Jonathan Kaiser, Tynan Kerr, Andie Mazorol, Ben Moren, Michael Mott, Stefanie Motta, Scott Nedrelow, Natasha Pestich, Andy Sturdevant, and Pamela Valfer.
Chicago Artists Coalition is located at 217 N Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Richard Artschwager, Sarah Canright, and Arturo Herrera.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Saturday, 3-6pm.
Work by Sam Hoolihan and John Marks.
Roman Susan is located at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. Screening Saturday, 10pm-12am.
Performance by Jessica Blinkhorn and Joseph Ravens.
DfbrL8r is located at 1136 N. Milwaukee Ave. Performance Friday, 8-10pm.
Curated by MK Meador, with work by Stacia Yeapanis and Jason Uriah White.
Design Cloud is locate at 118 N Peoria, Suite #2N. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
The Painter’s Other Library, oil on Alupanel, 36 panels, each 16 x 32”, 2014
Guest Post by Anne Harris
Matthew Girson is out of step. In our era of split-second digital dissemination, he paints meticulously crafted still lifes that are impossible to reproduce. His subject: books on shelves. After visiting his exhibition, The Painter’s Other Library, now on view at the Chicago Cultural Center, my students emailed him a series of questions. One asked, “Do you ever hurt your eyes painting like this?” His response: “YES! I get headaches. My drawings are so pale that I sometimes go snow-blind….” Although the paintings in this show are the opposite of pale, they are, like his drawings, hard to see. All live in the darkest realm of the gray scale, with distinctions so narrow they initially don’t exist. This work tests our willingness to focus, and risks being lost in the quick looking, quickly summarizing I-saw-it-at-the-opening-but-will-look-at-the-website-later tempo that sums up much of today’s viewing. Fluorescent lighting doesn’t help, as first impressions reduce the show to elegant black rectangles hung low in the beautifully proportioned but coldly glowing space. Once filled with library stacks—the CCC being our original public library—it consists now of bright white 30 ft. high walls, looming narrow arched doorways, flat gray carpet, and enormous windows blanketed by black drapes. The effect is a stark chic. This positions the work as contemporary, but risks blanching its quiet presence.
The Painter’s Other Library, North Gallery, Installation View
That said, these paintings are indeed present. They have the kind of intensity made through subtlety found in work meant to be slowly experienced—taken in through the senses and felt, rather than glanced at and catalogued in terms of image and idea. It was a pleasure to see my students vigorously looking; the paintings required a surprising amount of motion from us. Full frontal, back away, then stick your nose in, try to bend your eyeballs around the back of the painting to understand its construction, now angle sideways for a diagonal view, then back off again, images emerge, surfaces shift, color shifts, the space shifts, even the design seems to shift when the pieces are seen askance from variable angles. My class was enthralled by the smudged gray circles optically shimmering midst the grid of paintings in the farthest room (“a happy accident,” Matthew told us). My funniest experience—when I turned away and then looked over my shoulder, two pieces in the middle room kept dropping their stripes. The center voids expanded, which startled me. Very sneaky! If you seek out work that insists on long looking, if you (like me) are seriously frustrated that Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting is still not hanging at the AIC (it’s been years); if you speed through that room filled with Richters that are always up to reach the one Vija Celmins that is sometimes up; if you find yourself flattening your head against the wall trying to understand the surface of Jack Whitten’s Khee II, then this show’s for you.
Untitled (Reference) #1, oil on canvas, 40 x 80”, 2013
You’ll note the paintings I’ve just mentioned were all done before 1980. Girson teeters on a 40 year-old edge, the now non-existent divide between representation and abstraction. A line can be drawn from Girson back to the Parthenon’s friezes, to include Morandi, Mondrian, Poussin and Piero della Francesca. Their common denominator is the subjugation of subject matter to classical structure, the belief that purity of form in a work of art will bestow profundity on its contents. This thinking shaped David’s The Death of Marat, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the fascist art and architecture executed under Mussolini and Hitler.
This brings me to subject matter, and to a point in Girson’s work that I struggle with. The first piece one meets in this show is an outlier, called Allegory, Allegory, Part 1, it includes a line of twenty-four 8 x 16” painted panels. They repeat, in lush glossy black troweled over smooth matt black, an image of a fire. They’re seen in relation to their source, a mostly silent video of a bonfire, a small section of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi masterpiece, Triumph of the Will. Girson’s goal is ambitious, to weave together the multiple uses of classicism in relationship to political thinking, from the age of enlightenment to the “endgame of modernity,” as Paul B. Jaskot calls Hitler’s aesthetic ideals and monstrous deeds, in his fine essay for this show. I’ll add, this is the piece whose idea most intrigues me, but that interests me least in the flesh. It’s the most literal, the paint refuses to transpose, and it’s the only piece I looked at quickly. Today, in representational art, it’s typical to assume that the subject is the point of the painting. A more sophisticated viewer might look for subject in relationship to idea, but the understanding of painting as visceral experience tends to be reserved for non-objective work. So Matthew’s paintings are discussed and positioned in terms of subject and idea, while their form is only considered support for those things. Thus, dark libraries and dark books represent acquired and withheld knowledge—enlightenment and repression. Geometric structure is equated with fascism, repetition with entrapment, darkness with inaccessibility, and so on. It’s assumed that Girson’s choices are symbolic, that they function as allegory. Certainly his titles support that.
The Walls Were Full of Books. The Books Were Full of Ideas, oil on Alupanel,16 x 32”, 2014
Yes, these layers of meaning exist in this work, but placing them in front is misleading. I propose that the subject of Matthew Girson’s paintings is actually light, not books. Dark light. These paintings contain and emit dim luminosity. They’re filled with it. The longer we look, the brighter they become. The paradox of dark light is that over time we see more: our pupils dilate; we attune to the finest variations in value, temperature and hue, these grow through our concentrated focus. We’ve all entered dark rooms and waited as our eyes adjusted, but I’ll use a different parallel to describe this experience. Try staring through the insides of your closed eyelids. At first what you see is matter-of-fact blankness, an eclipse of your field of vision, but soon motion occurs, blooms of light, shifting shape, color, and eventually images. Stare long enough and your inward vision takes over, your sense of self, memories, the narratives of your life both public and private, all of these things exist within the intimate all-enclosing space behind your eyelids. This is where Matthew’s best paintings lie. They’re not symbolic. They’re metaphoric. Experiential. Starting with the intellect drains this away. By accessing this work first through sensory, sensual experience, the meaning deepens and opens, complex and contradictory. These pieces are best entered as we do all great fiction, imagination first.
The House Was Quiet and the World was Calm, oil on canvas, 80 x 60”, 2010
This past Monday, I visited the show again. As I looked and took notes, I was joined by the museum guard, Michael Hill. He’d just spent three days with Matthew’s work. I asked him to point out his favorites and he indicated Allegory, Allegory, Part 1 (he disagrees with me!), saying that he didn’t understand it until he saw it at an angle. He then pointed to The House Was Quiet and the World was Calm and told me that he instructs people to “look at it from the bottom up.” We moved to the back room to look at another of his favorites, The Walls Were Full of Books, The Books Were Full of Ideas. Just then, a man walked in, looking perplexed. He asked Hill, “What are these? Holograms?” Hill responded, “No sir. These are paintings.” The man’s eyebrows contracted, “What? What! What kind of paintings are THESE!” Hill had no answer, so he smiled. The enigma of Hill’s response perfectly mirrored the mystery of this extraordinary work. Come see it. Take an hour. Look very slowly.
Anne Harris is a painter who also teaches and curates. She’s Chair of the Exhibition Committee at the Riverside Arts Center, and currently teaches MFA and BFA students in the Painting and Drawing Department at SAIC. Her work has been exhibited at museums such as The National Portrait Gallery at The Smithsonian Institute and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Awards received include Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships. She lives in Riverside, IL, just outside Chicago.