May 9, 2011  |  Events & Programs
Teens Behind the Scenes: MoMA’s Museum Studies Program

Museum Studies, Class of 2011

When you were younger, perhaps you wanted to be an artist when you grew up. Perhaps you were the kid in class who was always doodling, who designed all of the posters for the dances and parties, and who would have rather hung around the art room than go out to recess with the other kids.

People who are good at science become scientists, and people who are good at art become artists. And that was probably as deep as your understanding of the art world went: if you’re good at drawing and painting and sculpting, you grow up to become an artist. Artists create art, they sell it, and then it goes up in a museum for everybody to look at. Repeat ad infinitum until you’re the next Pablo Picasso.

But then you grow up a bit more, and your guidance counselors and parents and whoever else you discuss this with start getting in your ear and telling you spooky stories with titles like “The Starving Artist.” Telling you about guys like Vincent van Gogh, about being broke, going crazy, and struggling your whole life. About how the art world doesn’t make any sense anyway, and that if anyone even ends up caring about your crazy paintings, it’s a hundred years after you’ve died in a ditch somewhere, and your grandkids get to keep all the money. No thanks, you think—I’ll take my chances with that business degree.

From left: Meditating on contemporary art in the MoMA galleries; At Rirkrit Tiravanija's Fear Eats The Soul exhibition

For this season’s Museum Studies program, we’re peeling back the curtain that surrounds the mystique of the art world, and bringing the 16 participating teens into contact with some of the dozens and dozens of different (and attainable) careers that orbit the arts—from curator to graphic designer, from educator to artist and beyond. Every Wednesday afternoon, from February 2 until May 25, the Museum Studies teens will be working with various members of the Museum’s staff on a multitude of projects as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding just what it means to have a “career in the arts.” In this way, we hope to broaden everybody’s ideas about how a museum works, as well as empower our teens to take control of their own futures in the process.

Viewing a teen-curated gallery space; laughing and curating during a Museum Studies project

One of the first projects the Museum Studies teens tackled was collaborating with our Department of Graphic Design on the creation of a teen-focused advertisement for MoMA PS1’s upcoming Ryan Trecartin exhibition, to be published in a high school newspaper in Connecticut. We visited the Graphic Design department’s offices, and met with Design Manager August Heffner, who took us through some of the Museum’s recent advertising campaigns. He showed us the path that MoMA’s visual materials take from their inception all the way to their installation, and how graphic design can influence our perceptions of an exhibition or institution. Most importantly, we had a chance to ask August about his own background, and how his educational and professional choices led to his employment here at MoMA.

Looking with August Heffner at "title wall" explorations for the German Expressionism exhibition; meeting with August in the Graphic Design offices

We then researched Ryan Trecartin’s work, to help us come up with ways to translate his artistic vision to the teens that would be seeing our ad. We created pitch groups, delved into the visual language of youth culture, and discussed our own reactions to ads and advertising images. We met with Assistant Director of Communications Daniela Stigh as well, and she took us into the world of PR, leading us through the creation of a teen-focused “press release,” which took the form of a Top Ten list of why people should visit the Trecartin show when it opens in June.

Graphic designer Jesse Reed shows us his final German Expressionism design; working on our press release with Daniela Stigh.

In order to learn more about how artists create interest in their work, as well as how work is bought and sold, we traveled to the art gallery Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in the West Village and looked at their Rirkrit Tiravanija show Fear Eats the Soul. For the exhibition, Tiravanija literally tore the doors off of the space, opening the gallery to the public, and challenging perceptions about interior/exterior spaces as well as the act of both selling and displaying art. The show featured a built-in T-shirt screen-printing studio, where visitors could choose from a menu of phrases and leave with an affordable “limited-edition” Rirkrit Tiravanija of their own. The space’s wide-open interior, dirt holes in the floor, spray-painted walls, and plywood construction served as an important contrast to our previous understanding of how one displays art to the public.

Rirkrit Tiravanija's screen-printing setup, with one of our T-shirts being made; talking to Hannah Hoffman at Gavin Brown's Enterprise

Delving into the art-creation side of things, the teens began an in-depth look into the career of contemporary artist Laurel Nakadate. Traveling to MoMA PS1, we took a tour of her current Only the Lonely exhibition. Back at MoMA, we then met with Barbara London, MoMA’s Associate Curator of Media and Performance Art, who led an amazingly deep and informative discussion of the history of performance and media-based art, along the way sharing insights into her own philosophy as a curator. Laurel supplied us with a great list of her own influences as well, and as we looked at them together, we began discussing how artwork from one era influences that of the following generation. On May 4, we went back to MoMA PS1 and interviewed Laurel inside her current exhibition gallery, an incredible discussion that tackled issues as far-reaching as high school anxiety dreams, feminism, and 9/11. It was an amazing experience, with author Rick Moody showing up to play guitar and tell ghost stories—we’ll be editing the footage down into two sections and posting it here in June.

Setting up our MoMA PS1 "campfire" interview with Laurel Nakadate; Laurel and Rick Moody chatting with the teens

It’s a big world out there, and the most we can hope for is to understand a small section of it. Hopefully, for the teens in our Museum Studies program, we’ve made that section of understanding just a little bit bigger. We’ve brought them into contact with some of the most talented, interesting, and artistic folks this city has to offer, and tried to give them the confidence to make their own decisions about who and what they grow up to be. Speaking on behalf of everyone here in the Education Department, we can’t wait to see where they end up… it’s going to be great.