Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
Hi, my name is Kenneth Yuen and I'm currently studying at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for my Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree. My specific fields of interest in fine arts would be painting/drawing and installation/sculpture. Since I was a child, art has always been an important interest of mine, and still remains that until this day. The main reasons I joined this field school was that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit these two incredibly cultural and artistically rich, but different cities that happen to be in two different continents, but that also hold such historical importance in the art world and it's movements. Plus, what would be a better circumstance to visit these two cities with people who share the same interest and passions as I do?
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
The fact that New York definitely lives up to the hype comes as a surprise to me; the city is so culturally rich and diverse, and its culture differs so drastically from it's neighborhoods, boroughs and districts. Manhattan is totally different compared to Brooklyn, just as the Lower Eastside is totally different compared to Tribeca. Despite there being so many different neighborhoods, none of them really stand out more or less, and that's not a bad thing. Every single district and neighborhood holds it's own; all of them literally have their specific culture and vibe in the air and they all stand out.
On a side note, it really came to me as a pleasant surprise that people genuinely are who they want to be and don't seem self-conscious here in New York; they really say what they want to say and behave the way that they want to behave. Maybe it's that kind of casual honesty that catches people off guard at times and unfairly earns New Yorkers reputation of being "rude.” In general, New York really has given me a wonderful first impression and it definitely lives up to the hype; the character of the city is in the air and everywhere else and there is no doubt why movies and music always choose this city as their settings and inspirations
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Museum of Modern Art. Who is the artist? When was this work made? What is the content of this work? In what context and as part of what art movement was it made?
During the portion of this program that was done locally back in Vancouver, each participating student was assigned a piece of artwork that is currently displayed at the Museum of Modern art; mine happened to be an installation piece by Cady Noland called The American Trip which was made in 1988. Cady Noland is an internationally displayed and acclaimed postmodern installation artist born in 1956 and is also the daughter of the abstract painter Kenneth Noland who was active in the 1950s and 1960s.
In her piece that was assigned to me, Noland criticizes American culture and the concept of the American Dream, and makes statements of how they both are heavily deep seeded in violence and thievery. The piece's composition is incredibly casual, especially for something that's making such a bold and strong statement about one's own country and cultural identity.
How did you approach the creative task of responding to this assigned work in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
In the studio portion of this program, we were also instructed to create our own piece of art that was in direct dialog with our assigned artist and work. Despite being totally aware of America's history of violence and exploitation, the idolization of the American Dream and "cliché American lifestyle" involving upward mobility, status and material wealth is something that's very ingrained in my personality and how I present myself to people initially, which is why I think my piece was assigned to me in the first place. With that being said, I took this assignment as an opportunity to express my point of view in regards to the American Dream coming from the perspective of a person of minority decent that only recently moved to North America two years ago, and also has family who have moved else where with the purpose and intention of upward mobility.
The initial challenge of creating my piece was how to incorporate my own cultural identity into my commentary of the American Dream and reference the exploitation of my people through symbolism (such as a crown that involves a railroad spike and references the railroads that my people built in the first place), but not have it come off as seeking understanding, but as a confrontational celebration of triumph in an exploitive system. The second challenge was then to embody the whole spirit of the American Dream and immigration, by finding a way to make my piece self-reliantly and physically craft every part of my sculpture on my own; from the bust itself to the American flag, all the way to the plinth that the sculpture sits on.
In my personal opinion, I wouldn't change anything about my sculpture as I personally feel like I've pursued my vision to the best of my ability with the skills and resources that were available to me. I feel like I was able to successfully compositionally juxtapose Noland's piece compositionally and in vibe, while expressing my different point of view.
After seeing your assigned art work in person (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most, and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?
It really was a pleasure to see The American Trip in person; I really gained so much more respect for the piece. The casualness of Noland's statement and composition really shines through in person as it is much smaller than I expected it to be. The fact that most viewers just simply walk by the work without giving it a second thought, despite the pirate flag being right next to the American flag really is a testament to the success of her statement, that most people are blind to America's deep seeded roots in violence and piracy and how it holds a place in the American cultural identity and psyche. The placement of Noland's work was also really well thought out by the museum in my opinion, which also builds another really interesting ephemeral context for her piece; as it was placed in the same room with really large spectacular murals, and behind it was a dark room that had an installation piece that involved lights and sounds, which all attract more immediate attention compared to Noland's piece.
Today’s activity was at the Whitney Museum in the Chelsea neighbourhood. What were your impressions of this part of New York after learning about it first in the pre-departure classes? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
Chelsea was an interesting place to visit, especially because it's where New York's current art movement is in the present, evidence being that this area has over 200 art galleries and hosts the Whitney Museum of American Art’s brand new building. So it was cool to see the center of New York's art world in the flesh. From a visual perspective, Cheslea really reminded me of Yaletown back in Vancouver as it is significantly more gentrified and polished up than areas like Bushwick (Brooklyn), which also seem quite gentrified itself, but not to the same degree. Chelsea being right by the water/chanel that separates it from Gramercy & Flatiron probably also contributes to me visually and geographically comparing it to Yaletown.
The Whitney was a great pleasure to visit. From the outside, the building wasn't immediately striking, but once getting inside, the simple interior design really works for itself and allows the artwork to speak for itself. One thing that surprised me was how much natural light got into the building while still being able to meet the requirements that an art museum would need, those being wide walls, open floors and high ceilings. On the inside, the museum's interior and rooms really did seem to flow naturally; the way the floors were separated was also a nice surprise, as they placed the art work chronologically from top to bottom, which creates a great narrative in regards to America's artistic development. The higher floors focused on American art from the 1940s that was trying way too hard to be European. As you go down the building and see the floors focused on postmodern and contemporary art, you really see America's artistic culture, identity and development, and how it has come a long way from the 1940s. It is almost like watching someone mature into their own identity and become much more introspective and capable of self-criticism.