When the Curtain Never Comes Down

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At the Teen Docent Program, we’ve been too busy to blog! Because of exhibition and spring break schedules, we only have five weeks in the new exhibition When the Curtain Never Comes Down before the students will be giving their final tours. With twenty-seven artists and many more objects to learn about, and with tours to plan on themes like “Resourcefulness and Determination,” “Isolation,” and “Happiness,” there is a lot to pack into just a few days of preparation. But it will all be worth it on May 19th when the teen docents lead their own engaging, carefully-crafted conversations about performance art!

If you’d like to bring high school-aged students to the tour, at 4pm on May 19th, please contact education@folkartmuseum.com.

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Class #13: A Field Trip to the American Folk Art Museum’s Archives and Offices

On a rainy, late-winter afternoon, the Teen Docents trekked out to Long Island City, Queens to visit AFAM’s offices and to meet with museum staff, including archivist Mimi Lester and registrar Lauren Arnold. Mimi and Lauren showed them a Henry Darger manuscript, two small Sister Gertrude Morgan works, and Ralph Fasanella’s painting pants and cap! They learned a little bit about the inner workings of the museum and heard about arts careers they may not have known about before their visit.

When class is back in session, they’ll get to see new exhibition, When the Curtain Never Comes Down, for the first time!

Class #12: A Shared Legacy Tours!

On March 3rd, the Teen Docents worked in groups to lead tours of the exhibition A Shared Legacy for teens from programs at the Rubin Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Jewish Museum. They worked in groups to facilitate conversations on themes like “Capitalism,” “Family,” and “Tradition.” The teens grew more comfortable with each other as the experience progressed, culminating in spontaneous musical performances, spoken word and a lot of laughing. See pictures here.

Class #10: Cecely

Today, at the museum, we began to write our outlines for the tour on March 3rd. This will be our first tour in which we are presenting to teens from other museums. For our outlines, some groups began coming up with scripts including introductions, and questions we were going to ask throughout the tour. We also walked around to our pieces to see if we could gather up more information about them. Lastly, we took the final minutes to tell other groups how we were going to present and in which order we were going to do it. This allowed us to gain feedback on some things we should do and some things we shouldn’t do. We also got advice on some things we all should do as a team, like making sure we speak up, and making eye contact. This helped us prepare not only for this tour, but times after as well.

Class#8: Francesca and Yarlin

FRANCESCA:

Today at the American Folk Art Museum we got to experience the new installation entitled “A Shared Legacy” independently and with our peers.  The artwork depicts the growth of new cultural and social norms in 19th century America.  New traditions, values, and ways of everyday life began to develop, which forever altered the country as a whole. We were given the task of identifying the main themes that the artwork presents and then themes were chosen to base our final tours around.  Some themes that were identified by myself and my fellow interns were: capitalism, a growing middle class, death, farming/food, sickness, religion, and family. All of these themes can be seen in the family portraits full of symbolism, the often used trade figures, the intricate furniture, and so many more interesting pieces that are a part of this fascinating installation. The class today was very successful and many very interesting points were raised regarding “A Shared Legacy” which is why I can’t wait to see everyone’s final tours!

YARLIN:

In class, we separated from the group with the partner we previously had chosen. The class as a whole jotted down possible themes we could use to classify the art. Each group had many overlaps with the themes. Some major themes we came across were family, death, tradition, political affairs, etc. Each pair was limited to four pieces of art, which had to be categorized into a theme of their choice. Specifically, my partner and I used the themes of death, family, entertainment, and tradition. We had a hard time trying to choose a theme from the beginning so we had to work backwards, we first chose the painting and then categorized it into a theme. Overall, we had a very good time and enjoyed categorizing the art into a theme, as well as learning more of the pieces of art as a whole.

Class #7: Cesar and Chris

Cesar:

After everyone showed up and we settled down, Laura told us to to go to her and listen to a varied selection of music to see, in our mind, what artwork we associate with the music and why. One song by Nirvana was called Smells Like Teen Spirit and I thought of Burning the Old South Church by John Hilling because I thought the people in the painting were like teenagers in the sense that they had the energy and the motivation to burn a building down. Other songs reminded other people of a boat on fire and more. After that, we were told to choose groups and go to a work of art after Nicole showed us how to ask questions that are not yes or no. They made the person really think about the artwork, like for example she asked what do you see, get closer and does it look different or not and why, what symbols or shapes do you see. When we were done, our groups went into the galleries tried it ourselves.

Chris:

When everyone arrived, the first activity was that we listened to music and tried to make comparisons with the art around us. Then Nicole had us ask some questions that would be posed by a tour guide working at a museum. These questions were questions that actually made the audience think about the art. For example “What do you see here?” or “What does this remind you of?” This was a fun class because everyone had a chance to feel like a tour guide for people we are comfortable with and know well.

Class #6: Ebony

Ebony:

In today’s class we were introduced to a new exhibit, A Shared Legacy. This exhibit has a lot to do with American History. It’s centered around the 1800’s-1920’s time period. It was really interesting learning how exactly gender and economic status were shown in portraits and the stories behind every piece of art. It’s as if you were walking into just settled land. My favorite painting was the one about William Penn and the Quakers, “A Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks.

Student Reflections on Other Museums

Over our long winter break, the teen docents were asked to visit other museums and record some of their thoughts.

Ava, The Museum of the Moving Image

Everything at the Museum of the Moving Image was eye-catching. One exhibit was even nauseating. This exhibit was called “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones.” Upon entering the exhibit, works of Chuck Jones were printed on the wall creating a diagonal walk way. It made me feel as if I was hallucinating. The inside of the exhibit was much more calming rather than the entrance. I learned the history of characters such as Buggs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Pepe Le Pew. My favorite part of the museum has always been the famous costumes. There were magnificent dresses and two Bill Cosby sweaters on display. On my tour, I learned they once had nine of Bill Cosby’s sweaters on display. On the same floor, there is a wide range of TV memorabilia. This includes action figures, metal lunch boxes, etc. Lastly, I saw a collection of vintage video games. These are also in working condition. They take specially-made tokens in order to play. I enjoyed my trip the Museum of the Moving Image.

Waleska, The Museum of the City of New York: The Museum That Changed My Mind

The museum that I visited was the Museum of the City of New York, which is located on 5th Avenue between 103rd and 104th street. Although the museum was being repaired, it was still in use, which meant I was able to view a few of the many exhibits that the museum holds. One of the things that I first noticed what that it was all about New York City, which makes absolute sense considering the fact that the name of the museum has New York City in it. The museum had artifacts from the beginning of time with New York, back when the Dutch still owned it, and it continued until artifacts from the present day were showcased. The room had a chronological order to it; the different sections were all organized by the time period to which the event occurred. Even though the room had many interesting parts to it, the social activism section seemed to catch my attention the most.

The social activism section was basically people protesting against common problems faced in New York City. The reason as to why this sparked an interest in me was because it was people protesting over something that had occurred while I was a young child, which meant that it was recent compared to everything else that was exhibited. The event mentioned was the collapse of the Twin Towers, also known as 9/11. The Twin Towers collapsed due to terrorists who hijacked two planes and flew them through the immensely large buildings. This event left thousands of people dead and thousands injured. This event caused the people of New York to stick together and become united; the only problem with this is that when a group becomes united, they usually seclude any other groups who do not share the same beliefs as them. It just happened that the hijackers were Muslim and their religion gave New Yorkers a reason to be against them.

After 9/11, New Yorkers protested for months to go against the Muslims and make them feel minuscule and noxious. The discrimination against Muslims was evident when New Yorkers protested against the construction of a Muslim center which was located not far from Ground Zero. Protesting against an immense amount of people who identify with the same religion was one of the worst things they could do because they made out the whole religion to be horrible and violent, when in reality only a few people from the religion caused the damage. These actions made it seem as if America was full of Islamophobes. In addition, this prejudice has caused inconveniences for Muslims time after time. Therefore, the social activism isn’t as great as it seems, especially not when the people are protesting against an ethnic group.

The reason why this interested me so much was because it completely changed my mind about museums. I learned that museums aren’t only places that showcase art; one can really learn about history from them. This was especially compelling because I had yet to learn about all of the protests against Muslims, along with all the other information that was in the room.

Imani Diaz, The Museum of Modern Art

The piece of art that I chose was from The Museum of Modern Art and it is called “Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea” by Mark Rothko. He completed the painting in 1944. The painting looks abstract and the color scheme is mainly colors in the pastel family. At the bottom portion of the painting, the floor is brown, which is probably dirt. There are also things planted in the ground along with long roots horizontally. This probably means that the painting was set in a garden or field close to a sea. The lightly colored background gave me imagery of a sea behind the other components of the artwork. The structure of the piece was both very linear and curvy. I really liked how both styles were incorporated because there was a good balance. I think the curvy components were included since the title had the word “swirl” in it and the swirls are usually very curly. One thing that stood out to me was two faded American flags. They were in the middle of the painting and that was probably a symbol of the artist’s nationalistic pride.

Ebony, The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum is a museum dedicated to all historical artifacts of the Jewish culture. The museum used to be a one family home and was generously donated. Exhibits in the museum range from archeological digging in the kids’ floor to movies in the main galleries. I recently visited the Jewish Museum and my favorite exhibit was “Masterpieces and Curiosity.”

This exhibit featured a grand quilt in an enormous display case that was made completely of glass. This made it easier to see the quilt. The quilt was made by a family who were Russian immigrants coming into America. It was partly made in Russia and finished in America. The quilt shows multiple examples of the culture diffusion in this family’s life and in America. Other things in the quilt are things such as a picture of George Dewey, the hero int he Spanish American War, which symbolized that they were from Russia but proud of their new home and victories.

This exhibit is my favorite because it shows the collaboration between the Jewish culture and American culture. They are both different but also alike in many ways and enhance both the person and the country intellectually, morally, and righteously. The exhibit shows the beginning of the immigration era with the quilt and leads into the country’s most famous decades, and it’s showing how people of so many different nationalities can be part of such a great nation’s history.

Cecely, The Museum of Natural History

One of my favorite exhibits at the Museum of Natural History is the “Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.” This part of the museum contains different kinds of animals with its displays. These animals range from mountain lions to caribous and from bears to extinct animals of the Ice Age. The scenery that goes along with the animals shows an actual representation of that place in North America at one point in history. The animals were also once real but were stuffed and brought to the museum. The exhibition is also filled with many neutral and dark colors. There are many brown/nude tones along with greens, blues and whites. It makes you feel as if you were looking at the animals in their natural habitat.

This exhibition is great for children and people of all ages. I definitely recommend this part of the museum to animal lovers, especially if you want to take a look at some of the amazing mammals of North America. It’s both fun and educational, everything you would want for your child. I personally like this exhibit because it reminds me of when I was younger. I used to go to this museum all of the time when I was younger and going back was a great way to reconnect with my childhood.

Francesa, “Government Bureau” by George Tooker, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many of Tooker’s paintings depict uplifting and harmonious scenes, however “Government Bureau” illustrates his more dark and negative observations on the world around him. More specifically, the painting depicts his observations on the grueling and boring life of a government worker. I was attracted to this painting immediately because the faces can been seen through the holes in the glass barriers throughout the painting. When I walked by the painting I saw them from the corner of my eye and had to know more. Observing the painting without reading the background information made me feel uncomfortable and a bit scared because of the expressions on the faces; also the lighting in the painting seemed harsh. Then I read the label and I understood. The painting is a run of the mill government office that provides some nondescript service that people are expected to surrender to and feel they cannot live without. Not all government services and regulations are unnecessary, but I have heard so many stories about the pains of waiting in lines at places like the DMV that I think I have developed a strong disliking for those types of places. My personal disliking for fluorescent lit office buildings really has to do with me never wanting to work in a place like that. I don’t want to wake up every Monday and sigh because I hate my job. I want to have freedom to create and change everyday, and not become one of the many faces behind the glass barriers. I chose this painting because I could relate to it on some level. “Government Bureau” is also a great painting from a technical standpoint. I’m not really an expert when it comes to painting technique, but I do know what looks good, is proportioned, and is well-executed. Tooker painted the same man and women several times and they are identical. His ability to duplicate the same person so precisely really adds to the painting’s ability to communicate a message I really can’t put into words. Maybe it’s something along the lines of, why does our society practice institutions that are in a way pointless and just fill time with overly complicated and stressful tasks?