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).
Well to start, my name is James Hospedales, and I’m entering my fourth year of liberal arts at KPU with an (unofficial) concentration in art history. During my first few years at Kwantlen, I remained unsure of my chosen major (geography), and decided to take a modern art history class after coming to New York City for the first time in the summer of 2013. During that class, I realized I had been majoring in a subject that I thought would lead to a job that made money, and not taking classes in a field that I loved. After my revelation, I completely changed the entire trajectory of my undergraduate degree. I am now planning on continuing on to UBC to attain my diploma in art history, and hopefully, my MA in art history afterwards. I am currently taking courses from different fields to fulfill the requirements for my BA that I feel will inform my future art history studies. One of the main reasons I chose to participate in the NYC/Venice field school was because I wanted to take part in the opportunity to travel with individuals from different fields while engaging and examining the intersection of both art and urban geography within the context of New York City. As well, I chose to participate in the studio portion of the field school as a way to engage with and understand the processes of conception and contextualization in the production of art.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled to be back in New York for this trip. I had previously come to New York in the summer of 2013 on a whim after deciding to leave a French immersion program in Quebec. Nothing could have prepared me for the insane journey that I embarked on less than twenty-four hours after booking that trip. During my first trip, I spent most of my time in the art museums and galleries that we’ve been able to visit, such as the Met, MoMA, and the Guggenheim. Going on this trip ended up being very special and I certainly had a “full circle” experience, since I came back fully prepared with the art history knowledge needed in order to give proper context to the art I had previously seen. I’ve enjoyed learning about how artists operate within different contexts in relation to geography, and how they’ve played a role in the development and gentrification of different parts of New York. What has surprised me that I didn’t notice my first time here is the abrupt division of neighbourhoods in terms of both people and vibe, sometimes within only a block. As well, New York is extremely diverse in terms of different styles of architecture. Vancouver is a young city in comparison, so being exposed to New York’s architecture has been a real treat that I’ve enjoyed trying to make sense of through a historical context. I think my favourite “surprise” that I’ve experienced on this trip is how different the art works appear in real life; I’ve been back to the MoMA three times so far in the past two weeks, and still underestimate how vibrant and animated the Futurist works appear. As well, I can’t wait to go to Venice to see all the Renaissance art that I’ve studied in a special topics class this past spring!
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?
The artist and art work I have been assigned is Sherrie Levine’s Untitled (Mr Austridge: 2) (1989). Formally, the image is a two-dimensional painting using black casein on wood panel, and is one from a series, all identical except for the grain of the wood panel. The content of the image is Mr. Austridge, a character from Krazy Kat, a comic strip that ran in American newspapers from 1913 to 1944. In terms of context, the character that Levine chose to depict is an ostrich that attempts to avoid the challenges of life by burying his head. The Krazy Kat comic strip is notable as it depicts the protagonist as being able to shift gender and colour. The comic strip was created by George Herriman, a man who was identified as Caucasian on his death certificate, but came from a Creole African-American family. The art work was originally exhibited in New York City, in the Whitney Museum of American Art, with other works of appropriation art as part of their Biennial Exhibition of 1989. By utilizing a highly repetitive comic strip image through repeated appropriation, Levine questions the artist’s concern for originality and authenticity. Although the image of Mr. Austridge is open to the viewer’s interpretation, Levine has spoken about the originality of images, saying that “Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Levine’s questioning of the semiotics of images leads to a re-contextualization of the images depicted in her appropriation art work.
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 my piece, Untitled, (Made In Admerica: 2), I chose to explore the semiotics of images within our contemporary global society in order to reveal the relationships between American culture, popular images, and advertising. About Untitled, (Mr. Austridge: 2), Sherrie Levine said that images within contemporary culture are borrowed from countless sources, and undergo a re-contextualization through appropriation. What I wanted to respond to Levine’s piece through my art work is that images demand a renegotiation of context that is contingent on their presentation; though banal and unexciting in their individual contexts, the combination of these images conjure ideas of advertising, popular culture and the global transaction of American identity through innumerable brands. I found that reducing my series to simple images was my biggest challenge, since I wanted to make sure that the context of my work spoke through its visual representation, as well as bearing a resemblance to Levine’s original work. I don’t think that I would have done anything differently after seeing Levine’s work in person, as I believe I was successful in the exchange of dialogue between my image and Levine’s. However, I did notice that the casein on Levine’s image remained flat, where as I had assumed that it added texture, which originally led me to attempt to replicate the desired effect. I think that by adding layers in order give my image more texture, I was successful in making my images stand out more to the viewer.
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?
To be honest, the only thing that surprised me about my art work was its size; I had assumed it would be smaller. I really liked being able to see Levine’s piece, which I enjoyed as I had originally been very resistant to engaging with the work in relation to my practice. I think that one of the reasons that Levine’s piece was assigned to me is because it challenged me to engage critically with the concept of the art work, as opposed to the critical dissection of its visual qualities. As I am beginning to think critically about the art world, this was an important lesson for me in terms of navigating an art work’s contextual framework. I was a little disappointed that the Levine works in the MoMA were all placed together in front of the elevators and away from many of the other works. After contemplating its location, I feel that its distance from the main exhibition spaces cause viewers to be discouraged from engaging critically with it. As well, as the MoMA places their works from the top to the bottom in order of significance and importance, I felt that Levine’s location on the lowest exhibition floor was offensive to both Levine and the appropriation art movement, which is easily dismissed by critics as derivative.
Today’s activity was at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in the downtown Manhattan 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?
As I had a general sense of what downtown Manhattan was like from my previous trip to New York, I was excited to learn more about the history of the area. The area is comprised of the southern-most part of Manhattan below 14th street, which includes the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Battery Park, the financial district, and the new World Trade Centre building, to name a few. The area is rich in history related to counter-culture and social activism, including landmarks like the Stonewall Inn and CBGB. As I knew that downtown Manhattan was where most of the stock brokers worked, I expected a little more of a “Wolf of Wall Street” vibe than I actually got (But I saw every other celebrity except Leo). I was glad our group got the opportunity to see the new 9/11 Museum, as it was built between this trip and the last time I came. During my visit to the museum, I paid close attention to how the exhibitions were curated and how the September 11th attacks were being positioned within the canon of American History. After my visit, I reflected on my experience and ultimately felt that the museum was extremely problematic. I liked that the exhibitions followed a structured timeline of events, lending a narrative quality to what I was experiencing. I think one reason for incorporating a timeline into the exhibition is because it gives it the element of truth. I took issue with this, as they completely disregarded all other voices (including those of the nations the US ultimately occupied). I’m not saying that terrorists didn’t orchestrate the attacks on America, but what I am saying is that the Middle East is not collectively responsible for the actions of one terrorist group. After seeing all the images and videos of citizens watching the World Trade Centre attacks, I wondered why we weren’t seeing the reactions of those experiencing the occupation and warfare of America halfway across the world. As well, Jessica and I took issue with the photographs and debris standing in as “art” objects, as well as soundtracks in different parts of the museum that were obviously incorporated to play on our emotions and reactions towards certain images. The exhibition also positions the new World Trade Centre as a symbol of patriotism, and serves as a monument that proves America can “rise from the ashes.” A one-sided story is never the full truth, and I feel that the exhibition was very convoluted and presented an “excuse” for the occupation of the Middle East.