Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brooklyn Friends School “Invents the Museum”

I've worked for several years as a pre-college instructor, teaching art and art history to high-school students.  I've also spent the last two years working towards K-12 Art Ed certification, with the ideal goal of teaching high school students.  As a true believer in teenagers' art, and a student of art education, I must say that the bar has been raised, both for high school art and for teaching high school art, courtesy of a show planned, produced and curated by the Brooklyn Friends School Art Club Cooperative and their teacher, Elizabeth Deull.

Before I go further, I should state that a) my wife is a teacher at Brooklyn Friends School; b) I've worked with several, but not all, of these students as a student teacher at BFS in the Fall 2009 semester; and c) I'm a recent graduate of the same art-education program as Ms. Deull, and have gotten to know her a bit at BFS over the past six months.  As such, I'm not an unbiased observer - and I know that those few people who visit this blog expect nothing but the highest in journalistic integrity.

That said, this show of high-schoolers' work stands up aesthetically and conceptually to the majority of group shows in small commercial galleries in New York City.  I'm very happy that it has been extended through June 6th, to coincide with the Atlantic Avenue Art Walk, and hope that it gets a lot of views and attention.

Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the art, shall we?  In the words of the show's press release (here): 

"In 'Invent the Museum' students chose to react to or reinvent an artwork or art idea that already existed in the world. This theme allowed students to research artworks of interest from a wide range of time periods, artists, artistic movements and media. They also learned about how artists and art movements from WWI to the present have developed new art ideas and expressions in reaction not only to the world around them, but often to the art that came before them. As a result, the student artists of The Art Club have constructed a show that presents their unique, contemporary take on both famous and more obscure artworks that span from the Renaissance to Postmodern times."

The show makes excellent use of a strange little storefront space on Hoyt Street in Brooklyn (half a block north of Atlantic Avenue) - the first thing you see walking by is a series of dolls made by the entire Art Club, each the familiar face of the Mona Lisa.  It's a nice introduction to an exhibition that makes the viewer look at familiar artwork through the eyes of some of the newest acolytes to art history.

All of the work was impressively left-brainy for such young artists, and some pieces struck me as the equal of works from artists several years older and more experienced than these students.   As I said above, this show stands up to most of what's up in group shows in NYC, and that's mighty impressive for a bunch of artists too young to legally vote.

Here's what's on display:

Ashley Felix's linocut self-portrait (based on Egon Schiele's Self-Portrait with Hands Folded) makes explicit the sort of stance Warhol made with Gold Marilyn - by referencing classics from art history in the process of depicting herself, she's planting a flag in the long-running conversation of art.

please click this image to see it in its proper proportion!

Becky Grenham's painting perfectly states the tongue-in-cheek reframing of this exhibition's questioning of what gets to be considered a "classic" work of art, and why. Degas' dancer takes the floor at a discotheque, enjoying the attention of club kids rather than the stodgy folks who read about her in a copy of Janson's or the hoi polloi who know her as a calendar motif. Culture high, meet culture low. I love the colored dots showing the play of light off a disco ball – it implies movement and increases the tension between the figures and the flat black background, as well as making me think of Damien Hirst's "dot paintings."

Wiley Guillot has a great hand already - he draws beautifully and idiosyncratically, and that makes his response to Kiki Smith's work feel fully independent of his art historical reference (I mean that in the best way).

When I last saw Staver Klitgaard, she was immersing herself in painting, learning everything she could about how the Old Masters composed and produced their imagery.  Her work in the show shows this exploration heading in a different direction:  digital "painting reenactments" of herself and another Art Club member as figures from Picasso, Goya and Vermeer (I wonder how Picasso would feel to know that he's considered an Old Master by the newest crop of artists...I agree wholeheartedly, and Portrait of Olga dans un Fauteui is an excellent painting for a modern young woman to reenact).

Manos Lupissakis processes "traditional" graffiti, Banksy's stencils and wheatpastes, and the general aesthetic of peeling paint in the subway system to make an Ode to the Subway that I found worth poring over inch by inch.

Samantha Rees's wall of small pen-and-ink portraits comment on the emotional content of traditional portraiture, and use the wall beautifully and evocatively, while her Self-Portrait in the Style of Van Eyck suggests an amazingly diverse group of artists:  Van Eyck, Kahlo, Klimt, Redon, even Stettheimer.

(this show ismuch more impressive than my ability to successfully format this blog entry...)

Amina Ross
is well on her way as an artist already:  her stunning modern interpretation of an African-American mourning quilt commands attention from the viewer, and her corner installation Defective Oracle made me chuckle for a moment, then ponder it for several days. 

Nina Ryser adds collage and her own drawing style to reprocess the work of Keith Haring into something much more her own.  This would fit right in at a Williamsburg gallery, and I'd love to see variations on the theme.  I love the head and neck that haven't been painted in at all - it sets off the wood grain and collage nicely.

Romy Smith makes a statement similar to Ashley Felix's referencing of the Egon Schiele self-portrait, only with a lot more humor – her How Botticelli's Woman Got Her Groove Back subverts the Portrait of a Young Woman by styling the sitter more like 1980 than 1480. The model's smirk makes it clear that she's in on the joke.


Allie Shyer's installations, collages and assemblages process Schwitters and Cornell with a design sense that (in my eyes, your mileage may vary) echoes the presentation of jumbled, disconnected imagery on a Google image search (or maybe mid-career Richard Prince).  I've seen a lot of her work by now, and it's all quite impressive.

 The Art Club Cooperative is such not just in name: several other pieces in the room were produced in collaboration. The back windows of the small space are covered in marker-on-acetate (?) reproductions of classic self-portraits…

 …hung over a shelf covered in plastic animals, all painted pink. My toddler LOVED that part.

There is also a wall of artworks made in the gallery by the Art Club members, all for sale at a measly $5 apiece. I bought two, and hope to buy a few more before the show ends. Money from the sales goes towards the Michael Nill Endowment Fund for Faculty Development, which will directly benefit Brooklyn Friends School and thus its students.

If you go, you really owe it to yourself to buy a piece of artwork. I can't wait to put mine up in my apartment once the show comes down (one of the ones I bought is the white panel with mounted 3-d black ribbon, visible under the appropriated picture of Wolverine. It's that kind of show.)

If you haven't been able to tell yet by reading my glowing praise, I'm very, very impressed with the caliber of artwork in this show, and by Ms. Deull's ability to work with students of this age to produce a show this impressive.  I hope to get the chance to work with high schoolers again soon and will keep this show in mind as the exemplar of what can be done with talented high school students, provided that you give them a real, meaningful project to work on and push them to challenge their own limits. 

"Invent the Museum" is up through June 6th (whether the BFS link at the top of this post says so or not) at 77B Hoyt Street between State Street and Atlantic Avenue, a space generously donated by the building owner, Nat Hendricks.  Go see the show, wouldja?

1 comment:

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