Presenter # 1 Susan Steinway
The big question: Why is that art?
Try to find out why asking the question – what makes you think it isn’t art? Not trying to be facetious or teacherly but to establish what it is about the piece that is prompting the question so you can address what is really bothering the viewer:
Is it the material? (Contemporary art is often made from everyday objects and materials used in non-art pursuits)
Is it the content? (Contemporary art is often about politics, sex, popular culture)
Is it the process the artist made? Or perhaps the lack of any process? (Contemporary artists often use processes not considered “art making” or use a readymade)
This question often brings up the comment “But I could do that!” which in turn brings you to Conceptual Art and the importance of the idea
For many conceptual artists it is the idea that is paramount, not the process of creating the art, so it is important to emphasize that while we all have stories to tell we tell them in different ways and that this piece of art is the artist’s, that the viewer has his or her own story to tell in their own way.
Contemporary artists, especially conceptual artists don’t always stick to one format (photo, printmaking, paint, sculpture, etc.) but use the format and materials the need to express their idea/story no matter what those materials are, or even if they know how to use them
SO: Why is he/she the artists if he/she didn’t actually make the piece?
►Roni Horn “Pink Tons” (2008)
(Roni Horn aka Roni Horn at ICA Feb – June 2010; mid-career retrospective, included photos, sculptures, drawings, and large glass pieces)
Water, surfaces, the serendipity of movement and ever changing nature are all important in her work
Glass is a very specific skill, especially when this large; made in Germany by glass making foundry
Idea is important – the beauty, mystery, the way it reflects and is opaque, the cracks, those are all Roni Horn’s, they are what she wants you to see
[Why isn’t fabricator on label too? Difficult question, curatorial decision, artis’ts decision, different for each; important to address if someone brings it up]
►Roni Horn “Ant Farm” (1974/2007)
Performance aspect gone (RISD thesis) but links and connections to all her work obvious because in retrospective show
Nothing different than kid’s toy except size
Interesting question of why this is different in art museum vs. science museum, having to do with expectations of viewers
Just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it isn’t art
To repeat: it is the idea that is important to conceptual artist so she is going to use any means necessary to express that idea
This is not a foreign concept today, and especially not to teenagers – we live in a world of crossover, mashing up, mixing, blending worlds of art, music, fashion, and more; everything is being appropriated, artists take what they need to tell the story/express the idea where ever it comes from
Presenter #2 Renana Greenberg
Sensitive Materials and Subjects
Many contemporary artists employ materials and topics that are controversial, and could be very difficult to talk about with a group of different visitors from varying backgrounds, such as in a public tour. This part of the presentation was meant to encourage docents to explore these works and not avoid them on a tour.
► Dr. Lakra’s tattooed plastic doll (part of his series from 2004-2010):
Dr. Lakra is an artist who is interested in symbols from different cultures, some of which are difficult to look at, such as his use of gang symbols, the swastika, or the tear drop which is a popular symbol in prison culture.
One way to approach this type of work is to take an anthropological perspective—take the time to explore with the visitors the history of these symbols, what they mean (or meant) in various contexts, and how they came to represent what they do for us today. It is important to encourage visitors to think about why we have these reactions to certain symbols and imagery.
Although in a work such as this, a major part of the discussion may be about the symbols themselves, it is also interesting to focus on how these symbols are presented by the artist—they are not just drawn on a piece of paper and framed on a wall, but they are tattooed on a plastic doll. When I gave a tour about this work, we would often have great discussions about the associations we have with the doll itself, and furthermore we would talk about how it is displayed—in front of a mirror, where the viewers can see the works from behind, but also themselves and their own reactions to these works.
► Charles LeDray’s “Orrery” (1997)
This work received a lot of attention at the museum because it was encased in a glass globe and was very small and intimate. At first glance, the fact that the artist carved this small representation of the planets seems fascinating enough, but as soon as people learned that it was carved out of human bone, many people were disturbed by this fact. Some people found it disrespectful, unethical, or disgusting.
When giving a tour about a work that contains a sensitive material such as this one, I encourage people to express and share their thoughts about it, but we don’t stop there. I ask the visitors to take a moment to step back and put themselves in the artist’s shoes and really think about why this was the best material for the artist to use in this particular work. Did he choose to create this orrery, a mechanical device intended to demonstrate the position of the planets, out of human bone to draw attention to the mortality of human existence? Or to comment on how we sometimes think the whole world revolved around us?
Another technique I used when talking about this work with a group is to ask them, what if this was in a different type of museum? What if this was displayed in a natural history museum? We actually went to the Cahokia museum on a trip organized by the National Docent Symposium the evening before our presentation and it was great to be able to say that there were human bones there and no one expressed any shock or disgust at the fact that they were on displayed there. LeDray’s “Orrery” opened up a whole discussion with different groups about the role of the museum, and the difference between various types of museums. Some visitors mentioned how when they visit a contemporary art museum they expect to be challenged or surprised, whereas at other museums, they may let their guard down a bit more.
► The main idea of this theme is that there are ways to talk about even the most sensitive subjects in art works at the museum, and that it is worth taking the time to do so because at the end of the day, the visitors have the chance to explore and think about things that they otherwise would avoid, and in any other context would not think twice about.
Presenter #3 Vicci Recckio
Sexuality in the contemporary art museum.
Sexuality varies across culture and region. Refers to sexual orientation, sexual activity, gender identify, & nudity.
►Photograph Prop 8. Photo by Catherine Opie (Prop 8 Eliminates rights of same sex couples.
Gave the participants a chance voice comments on photograph.
Don’t avoid comments and questions.
Change problems brought up by visitors into opportunities to have open conversations.
Encourage discussion. Suspend judgment. Form opinions slowly. & Art tells a story.
Encourage use of statement starters such as:
“How to.. How might... In What ways might… and What might be all the ways…
-How might these photographs be arranged differently, look at full arrangement and topics of collection.
-What might be all the reasons why the artist is interested in this topic?
Catherin Opie is known for:
- documenting people (surfers, footballers, lesbians…)
- everyday moments
- how communities work together and see each other.
This photograph is actually telling a story, get the visitor to go beyond and make connections. This photograph is a part of 5 civic gatherings.
Important ot have visitors view the piece related the entire collection’s, especially when visiting the Catherine Opie’s Empty and Full exhibit.
►Photograph From Here to Maternity by Nan Goldin. (1986-2000.) Collection of 24 photographs
Photographs shows some nudity, breastfeeding, changing diapers.
These photographs are familiar yet emotional and they move the visitors.
Shared a couple challenging comments with audience.
Encourage use of statement starters:
“How to.. How might... In What ways might… and What might be all the ways…
Reminder: Important for guide to really thinking before speaking especially when children are with parents. We are not there to educate their child on sexuality.
Nan Goldin explore themes of love, gender, sex , NYC skylines, people in water and families.
CONCLUSION OF PRESENTATION:
Video and Q& A
►Christian Jankowski, “The Hunt” (1min 11 sec, 1992/1997)
Video (and film) are such large parts of the contemporary art scene that we thought it would be impossible to talk about contemporary art without mentioning them, so we’re going to end by showing this very short video from the ICA’s permanent collection.
Opened up presentation to questions and comments. Very engaging conversation between participants and presenters.