Checking in on the Art World (Ep. 286)

With a number of interesting art world stories popping up over the past couple of weeks, Tim runs down what he has found worthwhile, exciting, and thought-provoking recently. Listen as he discusses Christo and Jeanne-Claude posthumously wrapping the Arc de Triomphe, immersive van Gogh experiences, and an update to the Gardner Museum heist story.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed the last of weeks with stories from the art world; a lot of good stories that are of interest and not just of interest to art history nerds like me, but stories that are interesting to a larger audience and stories that can engage some of your students and maybe peak their interest in one thing or another. Today I want to use the podcast to check in on just what’s happening in the art world, share some of the things that caught my attention, and talk about a few things that may be of interest to you, maybe a few things that you want to bring into your classroom.

First up is Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapping the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Well, obviously they didn’t wrap it because Christo died last year and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, passed away about a decade ago, I think. I want to say like 2010, 2009 maybe. But they had dreamt throughout their lives of wrapping the Arc de Triomphe. Their vision for that has now been realized after their deaths.

Now, if you know Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work, you can already imagine what this looked like. You’ve seen giant wrapped buildings before, including the wrapped Reichstag in Germany. It’s very simple in some ways, just fabric wrapped around a building, but it’s so complex in so many other ways; just thinking about how much work it had to take to put that piece together, from the amount of fabric that is needed, to the number of people needed to set it up, and God knows what kind of precautions they need to take to not damage something as iconic as the Arc de Triomphe. Just the logistics of that are mind-blowing. But yet, after they go through all of that work, it just goes back to this simple beauty of draped fabric, albeit on a massive industrial scale. My thoughts kind of vacillate between the complexity and the simplicity. I’m not sure which one of those I appreciate more.

Now, my daughter actually brought this piece to my attention. She’s 13, and we were just out running together, and she brings it up. She’s like, “Oh, did you see that the Arc de Triomphe got wrapped in fabric?” I was like, “Wait, like the artist, Christo, like he used to do?” She’s like, “No, it was. It was one of his works.” I was super excited that she had brought that up because I don’t try to push my interests on my kids, so she doesn’t know a ton of artists. She doesn’t know Christo and Jeanne-Claude until this comes out. It’s really fun when she’s able to discover things organically. When she first saw this, she was kind of intrigued. When she brought it up to me, she had also looked up the Valley Curtain in Colorado and found The Gates in New York City. Then I was able to tell her about the Wrapped Reichstag and maybe my favorite Christo and Jeanne-Claude work, the pink islands off the coast of Florida and just share a few of my other favorites with her. That was a really cool experience. I was glad she found that. I was glad she brought that to my attention, so I was able to check it out a little bit more.

But anyway, the Arc de Triomphe will be wrapped until October 3rd, I believe, and there’s actually a live feed on YouTube of the piece. I’m not sure how thrilling it is to see it live, but you can. Of course, there are just a plethora of photos and articles if you take the time to find them. It could be an opportunity to introduce Christo and Jeanne-Claude to your students, if you haven’t done that already.

Now, if you check the show notes, we are going to make an artist bio for Christo and Jeanne-Claude available to you. You can download the resource and you can share that with your students. The artist bio comes from AOEU’s FLEX Curriculum, which has so many great resources. Let me tell you about for just a second. The FLEX Curriculum is just this comprehensive curriculum solution. It has the artist bios. With those, we’re trying to introduce students to new artists; just a diverse set of historical, and contemporary, and living artists. In FLEX Curriculum, we have all sorts of lesson plans. They’re step-by-step. They come with objectives, and teaching strategies, and time requirements. There are resources, not only the artist bios, but there are worksheets, there are reference materials, there are lists, there are planning sheets, there are assessments, formative and summative, there are reflections, there are critiques, there are rubrics. There are even videos in FLEX, just these really, really cool animated videos that not only capture students’ attention, they also can scaffold learning and really explain critical art concepts in a kind of intriguing way. They’re a lot of fun and I do the voiceovers for a few of them. If you’re not just tired of my voice after listening to this podcast every week, you can also listen to me in the FLEX videos.

But you can check out the AOEU website to learn more about FLEX. Most importantly, you can learn how to get your school to possibly pay for a FLEX Curriculum subscription for you. Make sure you check that out.

Now, the next story, the second thing that caught my attention, albeit a couple of weeks ago, was this article basically asking, what is with all of these immersive, digital van Gogh experiences that are happening? Now, I first noticed them kind of pop up over the summer, but now they just seem to be everywhere. You’ve probably seen ads for these; just this immersive experience where you get to see digital versions of van Gogh’s works all over the walls, blown up to huge sizes, taking up entire rooms, which is kind of intriguing. But then you notice that there are just so many of them. There’s one that’s called Immersive Van Gogh, and then there’s Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, and then there’s Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Exhibition, and then there’s Van Gogh Alive. Just, what? Why are there so many of these? Where do they all come from?

I think a big part of it is that there’s not much copyright protection on van Gogh’s works. It’s been long enough. Everybody knows van Gogh and that work is widely available. If you can present a cool experience, people are going to want to come to it. It sounds like some of the better ones do offer a good experience. There are voiceovers, and music, and learning opportunities, and animations, and virtual reality experiences. But the bad ones that I’ve seen and the bad ones that I have heard about seem really, really bad, and you’re paying way too much money for the experience or for the lack of experience, maybe.

I had one friend that was telling me about this, and she would like to remain anonymous, but she basically went to one of these and hated every minute of it. Now, that’s a little bit of an oversimplification obviously, but overall it was just really, really disappointing. She said it was like just going into a big warehouse and just seeing some giant projections of artworks. There was a second floor. You go up on the second floor and it’s just a different angle of those big projections of artworks. She actually asked the security guard that was there, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” That was; just some big projections in a big room and that was about it. She walked out wondering why she just paid 50 bucks for that experience.

Either way, good or bad, I have to say I haven’t been to one of these and I don’t really mind that I haven’t been to one. I’m very happy to be wrong about that. Please let me know. If you’ve been to one of these and it was amazing, if you’ve been to one of these and you actually love it, let me know. I’m happy to change my mind, but to be honest, these things seem to be everywhere and I can’t get myself to want to go. But like I said, I’d love to hear it if you’ve been and you enjoyed it.

But I think the bigger concern that comes with these immersive experiences, and maybe concern is not the right word, because it’s going to make me sound old and curmudgeonly, which, not wrong, but kind of beside the point at this moment, but just this idea that these experiences are going to replace how we generally experience or generally taken art. The Indianapolis Museum of Art replaced an entire floor of art with this theater that’s set up for immersive artworks, which, I don’t know, that’s wild to me. We’re taking out actual art in order to let people look at digital reproductions of other art. I’m just having a tough time wrapping my head around that one. Again, with this, I’m happy to be wrong, but on this one, it’s going to take a little bit more convincing to change my mind, I think.

Now, third on my list that I wanted to share was this great story written about Jasper Johns. I believe it was in Vulture magazine online, and it’s by Jerry Saltz, an art critic, I believe, and it’s titled “Jasper and Me”, with the subtitle of, “The artist who invented contemporary art also changed my life,” which if that subtitle doesn’t get you to read, I don’t know what will. Okay, maybe yes, this one is just for the art history nerds. It’s a long read, like pretty long, but it talks in depth about Jasper Johns, about his work, about his place in art history, and how he relates to the works that came before and the works that came after him.

It was interesting to me to kind of hear about and learn more about his break with abstract expressionism and what he was trying to do with his own paintings. It includes a lot of just kind of personal anecdotes about the author’s interactions with Jasper Johns. The author, Jerry Saltz, is a big fan of Johns’ work. He comes out and says exactly that. He’s interacted with Johns socially for decades. That leaves him with a number of stories that are just fantastic to read.

As I said, this is a long article, but if you like Jasper Johns, it is definitely worth reading. It won’t translate to the classroom, I’ll just come out and tell you that right now. I don’t think anything in there is going to capture the attention of your kids. But if you are interested, if you want to know more about Jasper Johns as a person, learn a little bit more about his work, the stories behind his work, I honestly can’t imagine anything better. We will link to that in the show notes as well if you would like to check it out, if you’d like to set aside some time and give that a read.

Now, finally, the last story that I want to talk about is what is maybe a coda to the Gardner Museum heist from Boston from 1990, a little over 30 years ago. Robert Gentile, who is the last surviving person of interest from the Gardner Museum heist investigation, died last week after a stroke. Now, if you watch the “This Is a Robbery” documentary on Netflix, you will of course remember Robert Gentile. He is quite the character. I’m not sure what role he may have played in the heist, if any role at all, but it seems like it might be difficult to ever solve this case if there are no living persons of interest anymore. Now, the authorities still are putting on a brave face, still saying, “Oh, we’re continuing to find stuff. We think we have some ideas. We are getting closer. We found enough that we need to just keep at it.” But at this point, it’s been 30 years, so I don’t know if that one’s ever going to get solved.

I actually saw this quick interview with the director of the documentary talking about Robert Gentile. He was kind of skeptical that he played much of a role at all. He just said Robert Gentile was a grifter his whole life, and he kind of latched onto the idea of this heist because he thought it could make him some money. But overall, he was really skeptical that Gentile actually played much of a part. But like I said, whether he was part of it or not, he’s the last living person of interest. It’s tough to know where you go from there. Just thinking about that, I know a lot of teachers talk to their students about the heist. It’s something that always captures your attention. Maybe your kids are familiar with this really famous art crime, maybe they aren’t yet, but no matter the case in your classroom, this story can kind of give you an opening if you want to discuss it in your room as well.

That leaves me with the question, how else do we bring some of this, some of these stories into the classroom? I think the best place to start is probably with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Their work is eminently approachable. It is easy to understand and, visually, it can be absolutely striking. Like I talked about at the beginning of the episode with my daughter, kids respond to it. They generally really love the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. At the very minimum, it’ll bring about a reaction from them. All good art brings out a reaction and gives you an opening to talk about a lot of cool things. Like I said, check the show notes for the artist bio that we’ll have available for you to download, a really cool resource from the FLEX Curriculum.

If you want to, I guess, take that a step further with Christo and Jean-Claude, we have an awesome article in the AOEU magazine. I believe was written by Christine Woywod Veettil. It’s called “10 Fantastic Fiber Artists Your Students Will Love,” and it’s a very easy transition from Christo and Jeanne-Claude into other fiber artists. In that article, obviously 10 artists, but three that I think most students really, really respond to well, Bisa Butler is one. She is a huge name right now. She creates these amazing quilted portraits that use vibrant, intense layers of colors, tells some incredible stories, features some incredible people. Definitely somebody you want to share with your students,

Lisa Sparrow is in there as well. You may or may not have seen her stuff on social media, it’s very popular, but she creates the entire contents of stores, like corner stores or supermarkets, with these believable, but really playful-looking objects that are all sewn out of felt. Everything in there, every product is sewn out of felt. It’s very entertaining. It’s very cool. Opens the door to some maybe cool collaborative projects if you’re doing some fiber art stuff with your students.

Also, the third artist that I think students really like is Victoria Rose Richards. She works on a very small scale. She takes these aerial views of landscapes and turns them into thread paintings. They just become these just wonderful textured abstractions. It’s a very unique look. I think it’s very, very cool. I think your kids will respond to that as well.

Honestly, if your kids are working with fibers, you know that’s really engaging for them, just being able to take in that kinetic learning, be able to work with their hands, being able to create things with fibers. Those artists are going to engage them even further. Like I said, it’s called “10 Fantastic Fiber Artists Your Students Will Love”. Article worth reading and some artists worth checking out.

Beyond that, I think that any of these stories can be engaging if you frame them in the right way. The art heist is always going to grab kids’ attention. An immersive of experience is going to be worth a discussion. Jasper Johns, okay, I’ll say maybe not. But the point remains that there are so many stories happening in the art world at any given time. They can almost always work for something you want to do in the classroom, whether it’s a drawing exercise, a writing prompt, or the start of a discussion. If you’re framing it in an interesting way and asking the right questions, it’s something that’s worth doing more often with your students.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University, with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always, for listening, and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.