Teaching with Contemporary Art

Glenn Ligon, Ai Weiwei and The Art Cops

Glenn Ligon, “Rückenfigur”, 2009, Whitney Museum of American Art

Three things this week…

Maika Pollack recently wrote a wonderful review in The New York Observer about the current Glenn Ligon show at the Whitney Museum. As I visited the galleries about a week ago I kept coming back to questions around ways to teach about race and even perhaps making sociopolitical statements through the use of beauty. I mean, really, this is a beautiful show and it should be seen by teachers and students, as hard as that may be in late spring with the proverbial “testing period” hanging over everyone like an anvil. Yinka Shonibare MBE came to mind immediately. Not since Shonibare’s participation in the group exhibit, Ahistoric Occasion, just a few years ago at Mass MoCA, had I been confronted with work that was so simultaneously tough and gorgeous. The mammoth work, “Hands”, greets viewers stepping from the elevator- an obvious protest image (in this case, from the Million Man March) that needs no wall text to explain its connection to dissent. The text pieces in the adjoining room quietly pelt visitors with quotes about being black in America. Legible passages at the top of each work become muted and ambiguous as they return to the floor- much like fireworks as they explode and disappear. Even the installation, “To Disembark”, inspired by the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a former slave in a Virginia tobacco factory who literally arranged to be mailed in a wooden crate to Philadelphia in order to escape slavery, pulls you toward each piece in order to hear artists such as Billie Holiday and KRS-One. By the time you come full circle and are confronted with Ligon’s recent neon works, including “Rückenfigur”, America is literally turning away and facing the other direction. Being black in America- past and present- is shared through music, text, painting, installation and sculpture. It isn’t pretty, but the initial beauty of this show is what gets us to consider the works thoughtfully in the first place.

This brings me to my second item for the week, since we’re discussing turning away and facing the other direction.

Judith Dobrzynski (Real Clear Arts) and Lee Rosenbaum (Culture Grrl), among many others, have taken a stand regarding the Milwaukee Art Museum’s upcoming Summer of China show. Both authors, as well as this one, feel that museums have to begin making some kind of statement about the two-month detention (kidnapping) of Ai Weiwei. Museums that put together shows at this point with art on loan from China, without making any kind of attempt to address the issue surrounding Ai Weiwei, run the risk of appearing indifferent to the whole situation. Mary Louise Schumacher really sums it up in her May 20th Journal Sentinel piece which got Judith and Lee going in the first place.

Finally, a public service announcement… of sorts.

A few posts back I took on the idea of teaching graffiti in the classroom. Just thought everyone might enjoy this follow-up from The Art Cops. Priceless. Also kind of wondering what these two would dig up on a trip to China. I mean, why stop in L.A.?

 

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