Monday, December 21, 2009

The Museum Project Part II: Making Connections at the Peabody Essex Museum

Since the start of the school year, the Addison’s Education Department has been working with the Kindergarten Prep class at the Children’s Place, a Bright Horizons child care and early education center located on the campus of Phillips Academy, to connect an understanding of the value of museums to the cultural value of their own collections and to learn how to communicate these values to others through display and interpretation.

Click here to read Part I of The Museum Project on Blog Addison.

The students have been exploring ideas about collections and museums for the last few months, working with their families to document their own collections at home, presenting their documentation in class, reading book after book about collecting, art, artists, and museums, and documenting a visit to a museum of their choice with their families. Their incredible teachers have infused these ideas into everything they do in the classroom, from studying collections of primary and secondary colors to making collections of vocabulary words to learning about collections of books at the local library.

On December 4th, 2009, seventeen Kindergarten Prep students, twelve parents, two teachers, and the Addison’s museum educators boarded a bus to the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem to explore the museum as a group and put inspiration to use in creative ways.

In the Trash Menagerie exhibition, which presents over thirty works of art created from things most of us simply throw away, PEM’s School and Teacher Program Manager (and former Addison Education Fellow) Rebecca Hayes helped students exercise their observation and interpretation skills, consider the function and use of everyday objects, and see what incredible things can be made from recyclables.

Rebecca: What is this sculpture of a moth made of?
Students responses: Trash, a plate, a broken plate, a pot, wood (It’s from a piano! I can tell because it’s white and brown.), little wires, elastic…

(Image credit: Michelle Stitzlein, Sulphur Blue Smeck, 2005, Moth Series, piano keys, roofing metal, light fixtures, bicycle fenders and fork, china, electrical wire, lawn mower handles, and other trash, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.)

A discussion about the moth’s antennae being made from bike handles led to a conversation about what you could create from an old bicycle, which then led to brainstorming about creating art.

Rebecca: What could we use at home to make art? What do we recycle?
- I make airplanes out of old writing.
- Juice boxes! I’m going to make a school bus!

In the adjacent art studio, students used this inspiration to cut, rip, glue, and color empty cereal boxes, egg cartons, shampoo bottles, string, and paper strips into their own art menagerie.

- A flower! Now it’s a snowflake.
- A sketch of lightning. I cut one half and now I have to cut the other half.
- A spider. We’re making it together so we can make a big one.

Students also had the opportunity to meet PEM security guard Peter, who fielded a wide range of questions, including:

- Why do you have badges?
- Do you work all night?
- So why do we have museums, anyway?

Peter, an artist himself, was quite stunned when the students said that they had been studying the work of Robert Rauschenberg – along with Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

These profound connections between objects in the museum and in home collections, between topics in the museum and classroom curriculum studied, and between art and ideas will push students’ curiosity immeasurably further in the coming weeks.

Stay turned for further updates as this project progresses.

Posted by

Jamie Kaplowitz
Education Fellow

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Venus Anadyomene

With the Addison’s building project nearing completion, a combination of brand new and refurbished architectural details and artworks will soon adorn the spaces. Of striking interest will be the return of Paul Manship’s marble fountain, Venus Anadyomene, in the museum’s foyer. Originally commissioned by the museum’s architect Charles Platt, Manship’s fountain has had hydrological problems since the onset. Until now that is….

Art historian Harry Rand wrote about Manship’s objective for the sculpture in the Addison Gallery of American Art 65 Years catalogue (published in 1996):

“In the Roman revision of Greek myth, Venus—goddess of love and beauty—was the child of Dione and Uranus; the latter’s severed genitals mingled with the ocean and spawned Venus from the sea foam. Manship depicted the moment when, come from the surf and for the first time on land, Venus washes the generating ocean from her hair. The Greek anadyomene means ‘born of water,’ which suggests an apt motif for a fountain.”

Apt motif indeed. Unfortunately Manship’s desire to reference this myth was never fully realized. Intended to emit flowing water down into the basin as if trickling from the goddess’ wet hair, the figurine heads instead “dripped and spattered” water onto the floor, according to a review of the museum’s grand opening in the Boston Evening Transcript on the 16th May 1931.

Despite its failure to operate properly as a fountain, the sculpture itself is one of the Addison’s treasures. It is the first artwork people spy upon entering the building and the last thing seen upon leaving. As part of the Addison 75th anniversary, the museum asked Phillips Academy alumni to comment on their favorite pieces in the collection. Jeffrey Bush (PA class of 1946) shared this adolescent experience:

“What interested me most was the stone nymph kneeling in the entrance with no clothes on. Questions kept going through my mind. I pretended not to notice that she had no clothes on. Was this what I was supposed to do? Or was I supposed to really not notice? What about the adults who walked past her? Did they think I was really not noticing? Were they really not noticing? Or were they pretending, too? Was everyone pretending? It is many years later, and I’m an adult myself, but I still have no answers to any of these questions.”

Other alumni, clearly less bashful than Mr. Bush, joked that they patted her bottom upon leaving the museum. With or without flowing water, Venus Anadyomene continues to be a signature piece in the museum’s collection.

Fellow blogger James Sousa documented the de-installation of the fountain in a blog post on the 18th of July 2008. Such careful attention to moving the piece has been equally given to its conservation. Over the past year, conservators and engineers constructed and tested complex solutions to the fountain’s engineering, its water volume and pressure, and flow-rate, among many other details. A new plumbing/filtration system was developed to pump up to 3 gallons of water per minute through a concealed piping structure that will equally distribute water into the fountain’s surrounding marble basin and allow for better control of the flow rate. This sketch provides a detailed view of the invisible plumbing system. A water treatment system will calculate the water’s pH levels, keeping them at a constant level to limit any future deterioration of the new pipes. The new system will be a closed re-circulating system with timed controls to limit the amount of water flowing over the marble and conserve water. This detailed sketch, supplied by our engineers, reveals the elaborate internal system.

On December 16th, the Venus Anadyomene is scheduled to be re-installed in the Addison’s rotunda—reconstructing Paul Manship’s original design that dates back to 1927. Until then, we anxiously await the sound of trickling water in the Addison’s rotunda—not to mention reuniting with an exquisite work of art.

The Addison Gallery of American Art is forever grateful to the ingenuity, thoughtfulness, and patience of Phil Peterson and Dick Sullivan at Peterson Engineering P.C. as well as Adam Nesbit and his team at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

Posted by

Jaime DeSimone
Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Fellow

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tour of the Addison Construction Project

This hand-held video gives a glimpse of the progress to date on the Addison Gallery's renovation project. Addison Director Brian Allen led a small group of staff members on a tour that highlighted the new additions and improvements to the building.

Please click below to watch the video (Flash Player is required).

Posted by

James M. Sousa
Associate Registrar for Collections and Archives

Monday, December 7, 2009

Construction Connections: Architecture Students Visit a Building in the Making

Even while closed, the Addison is able to help students make connections between their studies and the world around them. While the outside of the Addison has been completed and landscaped, the construction crew has moved their operations inside to work on systems and interior details. They were joined one evening in November by a Phillips Academy Architecture class intent on seeing the real-world applications of their in-class studies.

The students were led throughout the museum by Jennifer Greene, Project Manager with Shawmut Design and Construction and accompanied by a reporter and a photographer from the Phillips Academy’s student newspaper. Students were shown how renovations have doubled the museum’s storage space, how lowered gallery ceilings hide mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems, how sprinkler heads were installed in gallery ceilings while still preserving the Addison’s beloved Sol LeWitt wall drawing, and how the green roof outside the new Museum Learning Center will benefit both the environment and the museum.

Students remarked at the care that was taken in protecting and preserving the architectural details of the original museum building, from the protective covers on the floors and twists and turns of the stairwell railings to exact matching of marble to expand doorways.

While we are unable to access the works in our collection for use with classes, we are finding out that our museum building has lessons of its own to teach.

To read the article that appeared in the Phillipian about the Architecture class’s visit to the Addison, follow this link.

Posted by:

Jamie Kaplowitz
Education Fellow