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).
Hello! I am Durrah Alsaif. I was a business student previously, but I am now in my 3rd year for my Bachelors of Fine Arts. My artwork is mainly focused on photography, digital media, and silkscreen. Coming from the Middle East, I have always been fascinated with different cultures, languages, and art, which is my main theme in my artwork. Joining this trip was one big opportunity to be with people who have the same artistic mind and to share the art adventure of a lifetime, as well as connecting with people from different backgrounds. Although I travel quite frequently to many places around the world with family and friends, it is different than traveling with a group of art students because being with like-minded people focuses on my potential career goal, which is being an artist. Also, I thought that coming to this trip would help expand my knowledge of contemporary art and my way of making art.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
As I am writing this on my last night in New York, I would say that it has been wonderful. Although I visited New York City twice in the winter a couple of years ago, this time felt like I have not visited this place before. Everything felt amazingly different: the weather, the neighborhood, the people, and the street art. I am fortunate enough to be in this field school where we got to see New York’s art scene from an artistic eye. What surprised me is the amount of street art in the city; it is literally everywhere! The thing that I liked most was the graffiti around Brooklyn (especially the neighborhood of our hostel) and seeing all the young artists and their work around the area was really delightful and encouraging. Seeing more areas of the city makes me love it more; it is a mixture of everything: art, culture, languages, backgrounds, boroughs and neighborhoods.
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 at the Museum of Modern Art was Water Tower (1998) by Rachel Whiteread. The work is a public sculpture installed on the roof of the Museum of Modern Art, which resembles many of the water towers around New York City except for the fact that it is an actual piece of art. The artist is more focused on the form, lines and the negative space around the artwork. Water Tower is meant to be a jewel to the sky and to accentuate it. Water Tower’s translucent texture makes it glows like a crystal in a clear sky and makes it almost invisible at night.
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?
Finding my assigned artwork at MoMA was quite amusing. When I was trying to look for it, I did not see it outside in the garden, so I asked some staff members, and they did not know where it was either. I knew from my research that it is displayed on the roof of MoMA, but I could not picture that it would be so very unnoticeable. After searching for Water Tower couple of times, I found it! It was installed on the rooftop of the sculpture garden, but it was so hidden that even the security guard at the garden did not know that it was part of the museum. Seeing it in real life was totally different experience than seeing it virtually. The first thing I noticed is that it was smaller than the pictures, as we cannot see it closely. Also, putting a sculpture on the rooftop of a building is interesting because it changes its context completely. I was lucky enough to see the sculpture glow in the sky because of the clear weather on that day.
Today’s activity was at the Guggenheim Museum in the Upper East Side neighborhood. 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?
On a rainy Friday morning, we were supposed to meet at the Guggenheim Museum at 10:00am. However, the trains were temporarily held, so we had to go to another subway station to take another train and managed to arrive at 11:00am. When I arrived at the museum, I was struck by the interior architecture of the museum, as it is beautifully structured in a spiral shape that makes the viewers move in a neat order from one artwork to another effortlessly. Also, each artist had his or her own section in the exhibition without interfering with other artworks. The exhibition that was on view was called “Storylines,” which is a collaboration of artists from different countries to tell their stories about politics, religion, sexuality and identity through different kinds of media in a contemporary way. In my opinion, the artworks in the show were too personal for me to understand or relate. Also, I felt that it was too contemporary in the way that they are shown. In my point of view, some of the artworks were kitsch. What I thought about the exhibition is that most of the artworks do not relate well to each other.
Later after the Guggenheim Museum visit, we decided to go for lunch at Shake Shack. I was hesitant at the beginning because it was my first time trying it (and I am glad I did!). It was so delicious that I decided to go back for dinner, but this time I waited in the line for 45 minutes (yes, it was that good!). On the same day, Pauline and I did some shopping before we left New York for Venice. When we arrived at the hostel later at night, we heard some loud noises coming from upstairs until we realized that there is a mini party happening in the Fashion Girls’ room. We went straight there as well as some other students in our group and spent a fun night with lots of laughter!