Connecting With Art: Whitney Partnership

“It looks like water.”  “I see a wave!”  “Something is moving – there’s motion.”  “Is it a painting, or is it sculpture?”
Grace Church School began to take advantage of its newly-formed partnership with its new neighbor – the Whitney Museum of American Art in October.  Sixth grade students peered intently at a few pieces from the Frank Stella retrospective at the museum.  Max Weintraub, a Whitney educator, gave them some introductory information about Stella, spoke briefly about the work before them, then he peppered them with questions, asking what they saw. He didn’t give many hints but let them talk.   The wave? It turned out to be a component of a painting from Stella’s Moby Dick series.  The motion?  The work, “Zeltweg (V), 4.75X”, grew out of Stella’s fascination with race cars.  Sculpture or painting?  Well, both really. With Dr. Weintraub’s deft guidance, the sixth graders discovered ideas in what they viewed, and they learned a great deal about how pieces were inspired and made.
Our Whitney partnership offers extraordinary opportunities for GCS students – from Lower School through High School.  (See the sidebar for how the fourth grade took in the Archibald Motley show in November.) The Whitney will send an educator to a classroom before leading a museum tour.  They may return to the classroom to talk about the visit. Students may engage in art-making sessions in the Whitney studio.
Grace teachers may ask to show a class a specific sequence of works that fit a particular curriculum. Harlem Renaissance? American history?  Whitney educators will contact a teacher before a visit and arrange to show and discuss works of that period.  Art class working on collage? They will single out artists who use collage. Photography, print-making, painting are among the multiple variations available for focused study.  Teachers can receive priority booking for school tours, including special time slots before the museum opens to the public.
In the high school, art majors can participate in a multi-part program, exploring curatorial practice and engaging in in-depth research. Nine art majors recently had a guided tour of the Stella show, and in the spring they will engage in an intensive workshop focused on the process of curating a show.  Finally, they will curate their own mock show.
The museum offers impressive flexibility in creating customized programs to fit Grace’s curriculum.  Our families can get priority registration for family workshops at the museum.  In addition to the smorgasbord for students, our partnership provides professional development workshops for teachers, museum passes for faculty members and will hold a GCS family event in early spring.
[sidebar]  Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist
When the fourth grade visited the Whitney to see the Archibald Motley show, they had no idea how many surprises were in store for them. After moving from the spacious lobby into the elevators on the way to the 8th floor, they learned from museum educators that everything in the Whitney is art - even the elevators. They were designed by the artist Richard Artschwager, and each elevator depicts a motif from the artist’s work.
That morning, the fourth graders had exclusive access to the Motley exhibit. As they studied works in the exhibition, the museum educators identified interesting items and asked guiding questions to help them connect the paintings to what they had been studying about the Harlem Renaissance.
One educator played a famous swing tune on her iPhone while students looked at Motley’s 1929 work, “Blues,” and had them imagine the song playing while people danced. Another educator brought paper and pencils and had students create their own work while looking at “Black Belt” from 1934.
Following the exhibition, Grace fourth graders joined students from three other schools in the concert hall for a musical tour of jazz by a quartet from Jazz at Lincoln Center. They listened, swayed and sang as the band played, and the band leader talked about the origin of jazz and how it inspired Archibald Motley’s life and work.
A final surprise came when the band played Duke Ellington’s, “Take the A Train,” a song that our fourth graders learned to dance to last year. As the GCS students started to do some of the moves, the band leader invited them to stand and do their choreographed dance to the tune. As they smiled and danced, it was clear that the trip was a fully immersive learning experience.