Art, Books, and Creativity! The 2014 ABC Teacher Institute

After a long school year, how do teachers recharge their batteries and fill their minds with exciting new project ideas for the year to come? For a select group from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio, and as near as Cleveland Park, D.C., NMWA’s annual weeklong Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute is just the ticket. From July 14–18, 2014, 23 teachers ranging in subject areas from science to French, grades Pre-K through 12, spent the week with NMWA’s educators and institute instructors learning arts-integration techniques centered on the ABC curriculum.

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists' book samples to use in the classroom

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists’ book samples to use in the classroom; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Developed by NMWA through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABC curriculum unites visual and language arts through the creation of artists’ books. In addition to developing students’ visual literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills, ABC also focuses on the cultural contributions of women artists. The ABC Teacher Institute introduces teachers of all ages, abilities, and disciplines to the curriculum and provides them with resources to successfully integrate visual arts into their classrooms. During the institute, participants created a portfolio of artists’ books and writing samples as models for classroom lessons; learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method for facilitating discussions about art; and brainstormed numerous creative ideas for how to adapt the ABC curriculum for their own classrooms and subject areas.

While they are serious about their teaching, this year’s participants were not afraid to have fun and let the creative juices flow! Highlights of the week included creating “bug books” inspired by the work of Maria Sibylla Merian; learning landscape and pop-up book techniques from paper engineer Carol Barton, whose mind-boggling paper creations left everyone in awe; writing poems based on the Fibonacci sequence; collectively creating “exquisite corpse” sketches; and transforming newspaper into sculptural hats that any fashionable avant-gardist would love.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants capped off the Institute by presenting the lesson concepts that they developed throughout the week. These incorporated key aspects of the ABC curriculum while addressing the unique curricula, objectives, and standards of learning of the teachers who created them. Ideas included landscape books used to teach scales in music class, pop-up books to expand the vocabulary of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, flag books for a unit on quadrilateral polygons in math class, among others. The lesson concepts clearly demonstrated the myriad cross-curricular applications of the ABC curriculum and left everyone feeling inspired and impassioned.

As one participant reflected, “the energy and ideas were flying right up ’til the last minute! I think the enthusiasm of all of the presenters rubbed off on the participants and spurred us on. I feel refreshed as a teacher going into the summer vacation, and when has that ever happened before?”

To access the free ABC curriculum, visit artbookscreativity.org. To learn more about the annual ABC Teacher Institute, check out NMWA’s Teacher Institute page.

—Olivia Mendelson is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meret Oppenheim’s “Table with Bird’s Feet”

On view at NMWA in Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, through September 14, Table with Bird’s Feet is a Surrealist sculpture that blends an everyday object with the fantastical. It was first exhibited in an exhibition of avant-garde furniture in Paris in 1939, organized by Réne Drouin and Leo Castelli. In this work, Oppenheim transformed a prosaic utility object, a table, into a fantasy, supported by the bronze feet of a bird, and marked with imprints of birds’ feet on its oval surface. Under the artist’s supervision, the table was manufactured in a limited edition of thirty copies in 1973.

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

The table represents Oppenheim’s fascination with the natural world—these feet could belong to a heron, flamingo, or any other long-legged bird she might have encountered or sketched on one of her frequent walks.

Visit NMWA Wednesday, August 20, for a free noon gallery talk on Tender Friendships to learn more!

Artist Spotlight: Margaret Salmon’s Video Ode to New Mothers

In 2005 Margaret Salmon (b. 1975, NY) received the inaugural Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which awarded her the opportunity to complete a six-month residency in Italy to further develop her filmic video practice. Between attending intensive Italian courses at the American Academy in Rome and living like a local in the small town of Biella, she shot Ninna Nanna (2007), a triptych video installation featuring three new mothers with their young children, now on view in Total Art: Contemporary Video.

Installation view of Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Photo Jake Erlich

Installation view of Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Photo Jake Erlich

In NMWA’s galleries, three side-by-side projector screens hold shared moments between three mother-child pairs in their homes or going about errands. Captured by Salmon on her 16-mm handheld camera, the mothers provide musical accompaniment by singing the popular Florentine lullaby “Coscine di Pollo,” which translates affectionately to “Little Chicken Thighs.” Sometimes in sync, sometimes as solo performances, the ninna nanna—the Italian word for lullaby—is sung as a tired, absentminded mantra for the sustained quietude of both mother and child.

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels

As a new mother herself during her residency in Italy, Salmon began observing and documenting the physical bonds and social reciprocities of the mother-child relationship. After Salmon met one of the featured mothers while they were both at the playground with their children, she visited several local women in their homes to record their daily routines without any direction or desired outcome. Salmon’s manner of filming was inspired by Italian neorealist cinema as well as cinéma vérité, film movements that prioritized accessible stories of everyday people over grand cinematic productions featuring theatrically trained actors.

Salmon was influenced by the inventive style of Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical 8 1/2 (1963), as well as Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), a film chronicling the monotonous routines of a Belgian mother and housewife. Akerman’s film highlights the screen-worthy drama in domestic settings, regularly overlooked by filmmakers up to that point.

Alternating between black-and-white and color video, and regular and accelerated motion, Ninna Nanna is considered a poetic rendering of the daily minutiae of everyday life. While many of Salmon’s videos use this documentary style to reflect on the repetitious, quotidian details of our lives, this work remains focused on universal rituals and intimacies specific to motherhood.

The intense physicality of the work of mothering—feeding, bathing, rocking, toting—combined with the emotional work of soothing, cuddling, and playing, begets a sweet yet tedious intimacy between mother and child. The sense of intimacy is furthered by Salmon’s decision to film her subjects and edit the content on her own, without the help of a crew. This experience of mother-child closeness is echoed between the artist and subjects; it is extended to the viewer as Salmon’s camera lingers on detailed textures of faces, fabrics, furniture, and lighting within these family homes.

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels; Photo Laura Hoffman

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Photo Laura Hoffman

Reminiscent of watching dear relatives’ home movies, Ninna Nanna allows the viewer to identify with the women’s contentment, isolation, and exhaustion. Salmon celebrates this rollercoaster experience in a video that is dedicated to the new, intensely interdependent relationship between mother and child, ultimately acknowledging the bond as an archetypal relationship that is experienced in some form by all humans.

To learn more about the artist and Ninna Nanna, visit the museum for a short conversation piece with NMWA Digital Media Specialist Laura Hoffman on Wednesday, August 13, at noon!

—Kelly Johnson is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Behind the Scenes with Eve Sussman, the Rufus Corporation, and the Old Masters

When first exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) was a runaway success. Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation, a collaborative of actors, choreographers, technicians, and artisans of all kinds, created the enthralling video installation that was called “the only obvious smashing work on view.”¹ The 10-minute video is a reimagined, moving meditation on Las Meninas (ca. 1656), by Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). It envisions the moments leading up to and following the painting’s iconic, transient scene.

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Velázquez’s enigmatic painting has garnered a cult-fandom among the art-obsessed. The slice-of-life, monumental scene in Las Meninas offers a very modern viewpoint, similar to a photographic snapshot but created more than 200 years before the camera. Velázquez’s composition is clever, even revolutionary. The painting shifts the traditional viewing perspective to focus on the creator of the image rather than the image the creator is representing.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

At the foreground of Las Meninas, Velázquez depicts himself before of a massive canvas with brush and palette in hand; next to him are members of the Royal Spanish court. However, the most prominent element for art historians is the indistinct mirror that can be seen at the very center background of the painting. Velázquez’s inclusion of the mirror, depicting a bust-length view of the King and Queen of Spain, allows the viewer to see beyond the canvas. His perspective suggests that the viewer is standing in the space occupied by the King and Queen. For the centuries of art leading up to this work, representational painting was rendered as though the surface of a canvas might be substituted for a window into another world, where the spectator looked in. Instead, Velázquez presents a painting that looks out at the viewing looking in. It is a complex, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of art-making itself.

So what can account for this drastic change in perspective?

At the same time Las Meninas was developed, the Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck, was hanging in the halls of the Spanish palace, or alcázar, that Velázquez walked every day. It is likely that Velázquez was very familiar with this work—as a result, many historians see Las Meninas as a direct reference to the mirror-motif originally used in Van Eyck’s work.

The plot thickens, bringing us back to Sussman and the Rufus Corporation.

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

When Eve Sussman saw Velázquez’s Las Meninas at the Museo Nacional del Prado, she too was prompted to reimagine a painting that itself reimagined Van Eyck’s earlier work.

However, Sussman and the Rufus Corporation approached their journey into shifting spectatorship with a new medium and a new dynamic viewing perspective. And while the subject matter appropriates content from Velázquez’s work, Sussman describes 89 Seconds as “. . . about activating the viewpoint of the camera, so you see it’s not Las Meninas—it’s something different.”²

To learn more, visit NMWA on Wednesday, August 3, at noon for our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor will facilitate a 30-minute conversation about 89 Seconds at Alcázar—join us during your lunch break, and return each Wednesday for up-close views of the other works in Total Art: Contemporary Video, on view at NMWA through October 12.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Blake Gopnik, “Shifting Through the Whitney: Eve Sussman,” in the Washington Post, March 14, 2004. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/wapost.jpg)
2. Eve Sussman as quoted in Carol Kino, “In the Studio: Eve Sussman,” in Art + Auction, July 2006. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/anauc.html)

Virtuoso Volunteers, Dedicated Docents

Walk through the doors of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and chances are the first thing you will see is the smiling face of a volunteer. Here to serve as welcoming representatives and knowledgeable sources of information, NMWA’s dedicated volunteer corps is essential to the daily operations of the institution.

Volunteers have a variety of reasons for devoting their time and skills to supporting NMWA, though one shared motivation is a commitment to the museum’s mission of redefining traditional histories of art. As Josephine Cabatu, current visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says, “NMWA’s mission to bring recognition to the achievements of women artists said it all for me. I wanted to be a part of this mission.” Others cite the opportunity to draw on their experiences as a motivating factor in their decision to volunteer. Erin Garland, another visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says that in addition to loving the museum’s mission, she is excited to use her background in teaching. Volunteering as a docent, she says, “combines my love of art and teaching.”

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA's collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA’s collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to become well acquainted with NMWA’s collection, and many gravitate toward specific works over time. Erin is partial to Lady in an Evening Dress by Lilla Cabot Perry, as it served as her inspiration for a project as a costume design major in college, while docent Marilyn Cohen favors Portrait of a Noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana because of its rich details, which she enjoys sharing with visitors during tours. Josephine, who is currently taking part in the eight-month docent training program, says that “because of the NMWA docent training I am undergoing, works now strike me in such different ways and for different reasons that I don’t know how to consider a ‘favorite’ at the moment.”

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds friendships and camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

What’s the best part of being a NMWA volunteer? That depends on whom you ask. Ed Williams, who has been a docent for 18 years, says that for him, “the best part of being a docent is meeting people from all over the world and introducing them to our marvelous collection.” Erin also finds that her interactions with visitors are what make her time at NMWA so meaningful: “Our visitors are wonderful! I’ve had so many interesting conversations about artists, works in the collection, and their experiences. I haven’t experienced this level of conversation at other museums where I’ve volunteered. I think it speaks to the connection and value our visitors place on the museum.” For Marilyn, the highlight of her ten years as a docent is the camaraderie and friendships forged between the volunteers. Sarah Cosgrove Gaumond began as a visitor experience volunteer in January 2014 and says of her experience at NMWA, “I love every part of it.”

Learn more about volunteering at NMWA!

—Olivia Mendelson is the education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Janaina Tschäpe, Goddess of Water and Melancholy

Janaina Tschäpe (b. 1973, Munich) is a Brazilian-German artist who creates paintings, drawings, photographs, and video art. Inspired by landscapes of the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil, as well as tales from the Romantic era of 19th-century Germany, she orchestrates images of cumbersomely costumed women placed in dramatic settings for videos and photographs.

Janaina Tschäpe, Lacrimacorpus (Zeitschneide); Production still from Lacrimacorpus,2004; Single-channel color video with sound; film transferred to DVD; Courtesy of the artist and Tierney Gardarin Gallery, New York

Janaina Tschäpe, Lacrimacorpus (Zeitschneide); Production still from Lacrimacorpus, 2004; Single-channel color video with sound; film transferred to DVD; Courtesy of the artist and Tierney Gardarin Gallery, New York

The artist’s first name, Janaina, refers to the Afro-Brazilian queen of the ocean, goddess of the sea, evolved from Yemanja of Yoruba religion. The artist identifies with her namesake by including a form of water in many of her projects, like Aquatica (2014), The Ocean Within (2013), Blood Sea (2004), and The Moat and the Moon (2003). Currently on view in Total Art: Contemporary Video, Tschäpe’s Lacrimacorpus dissolvens (2004) alludes to the story of a sad, self-loathing mythical creature that also behaves according to its name, dissolving in a pool of its own tears.

The short video features a female figure dressed in period costume from Goethe’s Faust.² Covered head to toe in swaths of beige fabric flowing over a large hoop skirt, the woman’s face and hands are also completely hidden by a hooded bonnet and extra-long sleeves. But the most unusual element of the ensemble is an unwieldy inflatable-teardrop collar encircling her neck.

Set to a careening piano melody, the woman spins in circles inside the weathered, abandoned room of a palace in Weimar, Germany, a hub of the German Enlightenment as well as the site of Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald. The sound of a turning crank opens the video, with a Rückenfigur¹ gazing out the window toward the gardens. Soft piano music begins to play, and the woman turns slowly in circles with a melancholic lilt. As the tune reaches a forceful tempo and crescendo, the woman also picks up speed and intensity.

Installation view with works by Tschäpe

Installation view with works by Tschäpe; Photo by Laura Hoffman

Uneven centripetal forces (and dizziness) eventually send her off balance until she melts slowly to the ground onto her back, arms spread wide as if crucified, exhausted, dissolved. Not the willful, skilled performance expected from the typical music-box ballerina, the woman’s repetitive, hypnotic “dance” seems compelled by a force unseen. The video plays on a loop, the woman stuck forever in this dizzying pattern of helplessness. Does she feel implicated in the horrific events that have occurred there, permanently tied to the trauma and shame? Does the loss of agency and burdensome sorrow represent an experience of 19th-century womanhood?

Accompanied by production stills from the shoot, the inclusion of Lacrimacorpus dissolvens in Total Art represents an instance in which the artist is in control of more than one medium. Tschäpe makes decisions not simply as the artist, but also as director, costume designer, choreographer, sound editor, and videographer. While the woman in the video may not have authority over her situation, Tschäpe carefully crafts an image of a character lost in a physically altering state of grief.

To learn more about the artist and Lacrimacorpus dissolvens, visit the museum for a short conversation with Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Midon on Wednesday, July 30 at noon, or attend Tschäpe’s talk at NMWA on September 19.

—Kelly Johnson is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is pursuing her MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Curatorial Practice.

Notes:

1. Figure shown with back to the viewer, alluding to landscape imagery made popular during the period of German Romanticism by painter Caspar David Friedrich in the 19th century.

Artist Spotlight: The Magical Erasure of Michal Rovner

Upon entering the exhibition Total Art: Contemporary Video, your attention may be drawn to the large blue artwork on the opposite wall. From a distance, it is challenging to determine the print’s context and subject. As you approach it more closely, however, you realize the work’s content is just as ambiguous in close proximity. The majority of the image is a nondescript, turquoise-tinted background. The upper portion contains four off-white, thick, irregular, horizontal lines that are staggered on top of one another, barely alluding to a sense of depth.

Installation view with work by Michal Rovner

Installation view with work by Michal Rovner

The work in question is One-Person Game Against Nature, No. 35 (1993) by Michal Rovner (b. 1957, Tel Aviv, Israel)—a chromogenic print reproduction of a frozen video image. The work is installed just above an elongated, sleek, white table with glass petri dishes erratically arranged along its length. This is another work by Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (2003), which incorporates moving video segments via hidden monitors under the table. As you peer into the petri dishes, you are greeted by miniscule objects that appear to be alive. They evoke bacteria or insects but as you look closely at all the dishes, something astonishing happens—the objects that are swarming or repeating their movements become recognizable as atomized human forms. Rovner recorded the movement of a group of people from above and transformed them through a heavy editing process that obscures any previously detectable natural arrangement.

Michal Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (detail), 2003; Steel table, 6 petri dishes, 4 monitors, glass plates, lighting, and digital files, 33 x 118 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Image © Michal Rovner, Courtesy Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), NY; Photo Ellen Labenski, Courtesy Pace Gallery

Michal Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (detail), 2003; Steel table, 6 petri dishes, 4 monitors, glass plates, lighting, and digital files, 33 x 118 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Image © Michal Rovner, Courtesy Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), NY; Photo Ellen Labenski, Courtesy Pace Gallery

Rovner’s digitized trompe l’oeil doesn’t stop there. A closer examination of One-Person Game reveals the same concept—given a second look, the lines and abstracted forms are human silhouettes. For this work, Rovner video-recorded four young men floating in the Dead Sea and then enlarged and amplified a still shot from the recording to create the grainy, ambiguous, and enigmatic image that scarcely suggests human forms.

A more pessimistic blogger might suggest that in reducing figures to this microscopic and unrecognizable level, Rovner diminishes notions of individual human identity. However, Rovner leaves traces of humanity in both of these works. In removing key associative details, she asks viewers to look again and look more deeply. Michal Rovner operates in the realm of human experience and her concepts function as a wondrous marriage between magic, mad science, and art. Rovner’s removal of detail allows viewers to open their minds. As scholar Sylvia Wolf explains, in “. . . seeing less, we imagine more.”¹

Rovner sees her video and photographic works as operating outside accepted reality. Commenting on her own inspirations for her projects, she notes:

I am looking for a point of departure from concreteness. But I don’t want to totally lose the presence of something, or even the meaning of what it was, or used to be, or could have been . . . And maybe it has potential—energy, information, visual information – to make a very strong statement about a specific reality, which an exact recording of that reality wouldn’t have. ²

Visit NMWA on Wednesday, July 23 at noon for a weekly staff-led gallery talk and hear from Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Midon as she discusses Rovner’s Data Zone, Cultures Table #3. Because doesn’t everyone deserve a little magic on their lunch break? We think so.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Sylvia Wolf, “The Space Between,” in Michal Rovner: The Space Between, Sylvia Wolf, ed., (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2001), 68.
2. Michal Rovner as quoted in “Michal Rovner and Leon Golub in Conversation, 20 March and 1 April 2001,” in Michal Rovner: The Space Between, Sylvia Wolf.