This past Thursday, I hosted a discussion based tour, aiming to break down the major themes and elements of Open This End and the contemporary art of the last 50 years. Participants aged 18 and up were invited to join us in asking questions, engaging in conversation and challenging the notions of what makes art “art” within a friendly, judgement free environment, along with making their own zine-styled journals to keep notes in.
Though we had originally designed the program to reach those who were less versed in contemporary arts, many of our participants came from the university's Arts Scholars program, and were recent freshmen. As an educator, a sudden and unexpected change in audience can be a challenge (imagine if you had written a lesson plan for a group of first graders, when suddenly, a group of high school seniors show up to your classroom ready to get to work), but it was obvious within the first ten minutes of the tour that this group of students knew what they were talking about and were eager to contribute to conversation. They engaged with our guided questions surrounding the art and themes of the show we had selected, and even challenged us with their own objections and ideas. Overall, I would say that the program ran smoothly, and I think I learned just as much from the participants as they did from the show.
With such a dense and complex show, we had to narrow down our tour to focus on just a few select pieces and themes. Much of contemporary art, and many pieces in Open This End, are rooted in ideas surrounding identity politics, portraiture, and the ever-changing complexities of authorship and appropriation. From the self-portraits of Andy Warhol, to the conceptual museum photography of Louis Lawler, to the complex questions raised by the watercolor works of Marlene Dumas, together we explored and discussed how these works and themes remain relevant to our lives today and what impact they have had on us historically, globally and even individually.
We often came back to the age old question of "well, what is art, really?", and also the importance of its understanding within the electronic age. Of course, we continually came back to my own personal favorite art form - the selfie - as a modern expression of many of the themes captured by the works visited on our tour. Participants were encouraged to take selfies along the way, and even left with a polaroid photograph posed in front of our very own Kehinde Wiley inspired selfie wall. Participants also left having made their own zine-inspired journals, complete with collaged cutouts from our collection of old art magazines. Though we did not necessarily get a chance to explore it in depth while on the tour, a large component of the show is based on text (and context) within contemporary art, so the exploration of found language within these magazines was really interesting to see unfold.
This program will run again on Thursday October 1st from 6:00-7:30pm at the Urban Arts Space. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP here, I am very excited for our next tour, and to see how a new group can bring about new discussions, ideas and outcomes from engaging with this incredible show.