Teaching with Contemporary Art

Fruits of Summer

Laurel Nakadate's "Only the Lonely"- installation view. Image: ps1.org

Summer offers fantastic opportunities for educators of all kinds to catch interesting group shows and special exhibitions that are happening before we start up the engines again in the fall. This summer, Mark Bradford’s gorgeous exhibit is at MCA Chicago, “Art in the Streets” continues to roll at MoCA Los Angeles (at least for a few more days) along with the traveling Lynda Benglis show, “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870” is showing at the Walker Art Center, Katharina Grosse’s recent installation (as well as an excellent group show titled “The Workers”) is featured at Mass MoCA, “Silence and Time” is on view at the Dallas Museum of Art, “Charles Atlas: Joints Array” is showing in the lobby of the New Museum, and PS1 has shows by Laurel Nakadate, Francis Alÿs and Nancy Grossman. Also right here in NYC, three more group shows of interest include “Perfectly Damaged” at Derek Eller, “Flowers for Summer” at Michael Werner, and “The Women in Our Life” at Cheim and Read.

But how do we begin to choose shows to see? Many of us have a small number of opportunities to get out and fuel our own planning with exhibition visits. Sometimes, depending on your location, there are many choices… and group shows in particular can be as hit-or-miss as a Bob Dylan concert.

When deciding which shows I will see, I often go with my gut but also take a look at my curriculum and the units I will be teaching in order to decide if any of the current shows align with what’s coming up. If I have the opportunity to see firsthand an exhibit that will enhance an introduction, or provide me with a variety of examples I may share with students, I’m all over it (unfortunately, I may also find myself wanting the exhibition catalogue if it’s a particularly good show, which can be an expensive habit). Other questions I ask myself include:

  • Is this an artist(s) I want to learn more about?
  • Is this a theme I am interested in exploring?
  • Has this exhibit been recommended by someone I trust?
  • Am I safe to assume that the work I see will not land on a coffee mug any time soon?

While visiting different venues I also check out the upcoming shows for fall and winter, and use this time to begin planning any school visits I may take with my own classes (for example, Sherrie Levine’s “Mayhem”opens at the Whitney Museum this November).

As we slowly move through the dog days of August, it makes sense to take some time, grab your sketchbook or journal and visit a few shows to inspire your own work and planning. Please also share any shows of interest in your neck of the woods!


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