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 everyone, my name is Angela Eszter Wells and I am currently a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University majoring in creative writing. Along the way I found myself gravitating to art history courses, whereby my life-long interest in art gained purchase. Since that first class in 2011 I have continued to develop and indulge my interests in art, particularly the practices surrounding gallery dealers and curators, but also art in context with the development of the different styles throughout history. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to travel with the KPU field school to New York and Venice as it offered such an incredible learning experience to critically view world class museums and art works.
My primary reason for taking this trip is to explore my relationship with art within the framework of my academic training and with a group of like-minded individuals. I want to stand before an artwork and react, obsess, crawl into it where I can incubate my opinions, and bring academic analysis to the work in context with spaces, both within the gallery and the neighbourhoods in which they were created. I am as curious about the artist as I am about the art and to know what experiences and environments the artist operates within.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
During this trip I was definitely expecting to view some works that I was familiar with, primarily works I have studied in art history classes at KPU by such artists as Basquiat, Picasso, Baraque, Rauschenburg, Johns, Stella, Chicago, Koons, Krasner, de Kooning, Courbet, Van Gogh, Boccioni, Kalo and Murakami. I was not disappointed. In fact, overwhelmed would better describe my reactions to the numerous works with which I was familiar at The Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum. I was particularly captivated at the sight of Meret Oppenheim’s fur lined teacup and Boccioni’s The City Rises at MoMA. Past discussions of the context within which these artists operated flowed into the viewing experience. Oppenheim’s quiet dismantling of feminine items with sensual fur applications, and Boccioni’s brushstrokes creating the corybantic scene before me.
The city of New York is known for its vibrant energy, and in that sense I was prepared for the experience. What I noticed most throughout the trip was the amount of emphasis placed on art. Mere snippets of conversations quite often revolved around art, exterior walls were used as canvases in every neighbourhood, billboards, t-shirts, pavements, shops, entire bookstores dedicated to art, are just a few examples of the intense focus this city seems to be concentrating on ART!
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?
My assigned artwork, Milan Knizak’s Broken Music (1983) is associated with sound and performance art movements of the twentieth century. Knizak is an Eastern European artist born in 1940 in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and currently lives in Prague. He identifies himself as a performance artist, sculptor, musician, installation artist, dissident, graphic artist and art theorist. In terms of content, the work looks like a kit complete with useful (or not) articles, and an instruction manual style paperwork. The title “Broken Music” suggests that the items inside the box will be unusable for some reason. To put this piece into context, it is part of a larger body of work titled “Edition Hundertmark” under the sub- heading “Boxes” which began in 1970 with the first edition box. Bend your concept of consumerism and media slightly to view this work and you have entered the realm of Fluxus art.
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?
To respond to my piece, I focused on the artist and tried to gain a sense of how his circumstances and environment influenced his art. To think of the artist as a man operating within a country controlled by Communism provided me with insights into how he might have critiqued his environment through his work. Broken Music felt to me like a way of speaking to the political situations of the times. I drew on this feeling about the artist to choose a photo of him from the Internet and then sketch it from a photocopy. Since Knizak worked in a Fluxus style I also wanted to approach my work in this manner. Once my sketch was complete I turned it face down along with the photocopy of the same and sliced them both to ribbons. It was rather exhilarating to destroy my detailed sketch work, and I imagined the freedom Knizak felt as he destroyed and then reconstructed his music records and other items related to sound. I reconstructed my sketch and the photocopy, alternating them to look somewhat like musical notes on scale to reference his work from yet another angle. I grew up with parents who were refugees from the same Communist regime that Knizak operated within, and as I destroyed my own work I felt I understood how someone can find liberation and freedom through art no matter the circumstances of political oppression operating within their life. To destroy your work is an expression of free will.
Now that I have seen his work in person I feel I need to destroy my completed project even further and then begin again the reconstruction of the work. Through this process of destruction and reconstruction I am reminded of the liberty and freedom I am privileged to enjoy.
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?
With regard to form, the work was exactly as I expected since a record album is a universally known and understood form that is easily identified. The size and colour of the cardboard box is customized to fit the record so it offered no surprises either. The work is part of an exhibit titled “Sound Chess and Making Music Modern Design For Ear and Eye”,and is displayed in a case with equipment and works by Apple Inc. and George Maciunas to name a few. The entire room space is utilized with various historical items of popular American music culture. It seems to me that Knizak’s work is being absorbed into a larger body of work which obliterates the political undertones of his piece. Rather it is repositioned as part of the history of sound in America.
Today’s activity was a free day. What were your impressions of the part of New York you chose to explore? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
We studied the history of Soho’s rejuvenation from the 1970’s onward as being closely linked to the arrival of artists during this period. My experience of Soho was very much what I had studied in class. It had become an upscale residential neighbourhood that bore no resemblance to its history of artist live-work lofts. Shops and restaurants were trendy and upscale. It looked like a liveable borough of New York and seems insulated from the hectic pace elsewhere. Streets are not packed with the usual yellow taxis and black town cars, pedestrians, and food trucks. I investigated house prices and found a lovely 18-unit apartment offering up a 900 sq ft loft living space for $5,300,300. It was difficult to relate this area to the time when artists like Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark were developing their art within the bohemian lifestyle of Soho in the 1970’s.
My take away from this tour of Soho is that art still can still find a place in this gentrified neighbourhood. We (with Nancy Duff and some other students) visited the Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Arts on Wooster St. in Soho and were fortunate to spend some time with the collections manager Branden Wallace. He took the time to give us an overview of the details of the operations and acquisitions of the gallery throughout the years. It was interesting to hear how people occasionally left personal items and art collections of a deceased relative when those items related to the LGBTQ community. The archival room we viewed was full to overflowing and there were another five storage lockers filled as well, with items either received or purchased over the years. It was a memorable experience to have a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes operations of a museum.