Monday, 16 January 2017

Art, art and more art ... in New York, New York

Ai Wei Wei exhibition in Chelsea galleries.

by Deborah Sippitts

The RMIT School of Art New York Study Tour has been happening for 14 years. Each year a group of students, led by Dr Robin Kingston, Senior Lecturer and Study Tour Director, head for New York to seriously immerse themselves in art.

About 25 students and a few staff take part in the study tour annually, which includes 10 days of art with weekends off for more art and other pursuits in the big apple.

I arrived in New York the weekend before the study tour ... first time in New York and extremely excited just to be here.

After a weekend of checking out New York bars, Black Friday sales and shops, eateries, landmarks and more, we hit the art part on Monday.

In the morning we visited the Sculpture Centre in Long Island City, which offered two exhibitions.

Aki Sasamoto: Delicate Cycle which used laundry items and washing to create object scenarios out of narratives and actions. This exhibition was in the lower level of the Centre on display throughout a labyrinth of concrete tunnels and spaces which really suited the exhibits.

Part of Delicate Cycle by Aki Sasamoto in the concrete basement of the Sculpture Centre. 

The second exhibition was by Cosmina von Bonin - Who's Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea? This exhibition examines this German artist's fascination with the sea and featured some really cool and cute ideas.

In the afternoon, we moved to MoMA PS1 also in Long Island. This featured various exhibitions but we concentrated on Containers and Their Drivers by Mark Leckey, which featured a huge range of different styles of art by this artist.

On Tuesday we visited the famous Frick Collection on the corner of 5th Avenue and 70th Street. Housed in an upmarket mansion that was originally a home, the collection includes masterpieces of European arts from the 18th and 19th centuries including painting, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, etc.

This collection featured beautiful works but was a bit too classical for my tastes. I did like the James Whistler paintings of individual men and woman with abstract titles such as: An arrangement in black and brown

I also enjoyed the porcelain wing which had 18th century porcelain juxtaposed with modern complementary pieces, which worked really well. 

There was also a special exhibition of incredibly exquisite gilding work by Pierre Gouthiere – the virtuoso gilder at the French Court. Gouthiere lived from 1732 to 1813 and was the Faberge of his era in gold work ... utterly stunning and amazing pieces.

Unfortunately you were not allowed to take any photos of the art at The Frick, only the Garden Court.

For lunch on Tuesday we went to The Three Guys Diner, which is famous for good food, being one of Andy Warhol's favourite hangouts, and its Upper East Side’ clientele.

We didn't see anyone famous, but we did see a lot of women who had had copious amounts of plastic surgery and buckets of Botox ... almost as interesting as the art!

Wednesday started with a studio visit in Brooklyn to hear artist Susanna Heller's take on art and life in New York. Susanna was very interesting and works on many artworks at once.

Artist Susanna Heller at her studio in Brooklyn, on the right, with one of the first year students on the tour.

A strident feminist and passionate Democrat, she was horrified by the recent US election result and talked at length on how this will affect America and art.

She also talked about how after 9/11 she headed down to Ground Zero, with her art paper and soft pencils, and hung around drawing for weeks. Other people taking photos were told to leave, but she was allowed to stay to draw. Very interesting, real stuff ... all the art students loved her and asked heaps of questions.

After a pit stop for a coffee, we headed to the Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District. Featuring American Art from the 20th century to now, the Whitney collection is housed in a wonderful building designed by architect Renzo Piano.

We enjoyed a talk for our group by a very articulate and knowledgeable guide on the Carmen Herrera Lines of Sight exhibition. A Cuban artist, Herrera is now 101 years old.

We also looked at the Portrait Gallery which featured work from a range of American artists including Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Steven Meisel.

Would have loved to have more time at the Whitney . . . as there was a cinema exhibition on as well as heaps of other art ... hope to get back there before the end of the tour if I have time.

On Wednesday night we had a group dinner at the world famous Katz's Delicatessen in East Houston Street.

Famous for its Reuben sandwiches, pastrami and salami, Katz’s opened in 1888 and is still going strong. It is also the location for the famous Meg Ryan faking an orgasm scene in the hit movie When Harry Met Sally.

As soon as you enter Katz's you feel like you've been transported back to the 1940s ... “Send a Salami to our boys in the Army” slogans abound, as well as posters, deli hats for the sandwich cutters, and other memorabilia from the era.

Katz's Deli

The iconic Reuben sandwich with pastrami was fabulous and is made in front of your eyes at one of the sandwich cutting stations.

The whole group enjoyed Katz's ... a true time capsule and an amazing place . . . pastrami on rye rules!

It's Thursday, so it must be The Metropolitan Museum of Art visit. Most of the group visited The Met Breuer in Madison Avenue to see the exhibition Mastry by Kerry James Marshall, which was reportedly absolutely amazing.

We ended up visiting The Met to see the exhibition Unpacking Fashion, which featured stunning and ground-breaking fashions from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries ... from wonderful silks in the 18th century to excellent tailoring in the 19th century, and key movers and shakers in fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries – from Vionnet and Charles Worth to Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Commes des Garcon.

Sublime, stunning, sensational ... totally running out of superlatives for this exhibition ... Is fashion art? Possibly, but either way this was one incredible exhibition of unique fashion pieces.

For the final day of our first week, we headed to the art galleries in Chelsea. 

The many art galleries in Chelsea are spread out from 18th Street to 27th Street and we visited as many of the key galleries as we could fit in during the time we had.

This included two exhibitions by Ai Wei Wei, and others by Carrie Mae Weems, Ragnar Kjartansson, Nan Goldin and Mark Rothko.

Weems' influential career continues to address the rifts caused by race, class and gender, via imagery and text that is both sharply direct and beautifully poetic. Her video - People of a Darker Hue - should be compulsory viewing.

Chelsea gallery visits were interesting and sparked heaps of discussion about in nearby cafes.

A fab week of art in NYC ... with more to come and a very well organised and researched study tour by Dr Robin Kingston.

Watch this space for Art NYC 2.0 ...

P.S. A few of us also visited Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle Hotel – famous for the wonderful drawings by Ludwig Bemelman on the walls who illustrated the Madeline children's books – as well as superb jazz and classy cocktails. It was fab … a quintessential New York experience!

The School of Art Study Tour 2016 took place in November/December 2016.

Photos by Deborah Sippitts 


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