UMMA encourages creative arts from the local community

When we ask “what makes an artist?” it can be philosophical, sarcastic or pretentious. Regardless of the intent of the question, the “FUN” exhibition at UMMA Irving Stenn Jr. Gallery (May 14 – September 9) provides the answers: community, crafting materials, and a sense of freedom and fun. .

Throughout the summer, patrons of the window-filled exhibition space in the center of campus transformed basic materials into massive sculptures. The project began as the brainchild of UMMA Curator for Teaching and Learning, Grace VanderVliet. Years ago, VanderVliet had a vision for the gallery: “I would turn it into a gathering space for families,” she said in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily, “and I would invite people practice having conversations about life, about art, using art.

That vision turned into a course led by the Lloyd Scholars for Writing and Artistic Director of Arts, Mark Tucker. The gallery space was a blank slate until VanderVliet asked the students to create a sculpture reimagining a work from the UMMA collection of their choice. From there, with a floor covered in paper and masses of paper, glue, wire, staples and paint, the project grew and exploded. The students became artist-in-residence alongside VanderVliet, Tucker, and the UMMA team, joined by brief artist residencies from community members of all ages.

Throughout the summer, museum visitors and volunteers compiled the sculptures. The community art process took place on August 26, long after the spring students had finished their course (although some students stayed to see their works grow). Months of novice artist work went into each piece of cardboard, wire, paper and papier-mache. The children painted the base layers of the papier-mâché, and the teenagers twisted the threads. Everyone was an artist with a mission. If a child was too young to participate in the project, they created theatrical art with homemade costumes. Each dedicated themselves to creating something “bigger than we could do on our own,” VanderVliet said.

Today, with the paper on the floor and the sculptures completed, the gallery does not have the rigid, immutable feeling of many museum exhibits. It exudes pure pleasure, creativity and curiosity. Visitors to the museum enter the space under a large homemade arch made of colored scraps of paper and a glued-on three-dimensional word: “FUN”. “PLEASE TOUCH”, a sign reads. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the sculptures; sit on the gigantic cat’s lap, tug lightly on the puffy mesh limbs of the modern sculptures and touch the thread of a seven-foot silver human. Visitors can also tag each sculpture with a miniaturized image of its inspiration, further connecting with the pieces’ creative origins and material creation. The exciting open space allows visitors to explore the traditional UMMA galleries with newfound comfort, curiosity and bravery to ask questions.

At the entrance to the space is an enormous blue tiger/sofa designed by LSA psychology major Lucy Popovitch, modeled after a similarly shaped Jin Dynasty Chinese stoneware pillow. The sign accompanying the work asks visitors to learn about the work, giving them the right to sit down and climb into the sculpture to view the papier-mâché interior. On the couch is a black telephone, an addition from SMTD Performing Arts Technology Associate Professor Michael Gurevich, who collaborated with the students through interactive audio. On this tiger sofa, visitors can dial to hear various cat noises or record their own, allowing visitors to add to the exhibit.

On the other side of the room is an unidentifiable green figure inspired by Louise Nevelson’s sculpture, “Dark Presence III”. Kaitlyn (Xiaoyu) Yi, a senior LSA communications and media major, was influenced by the original sculpture’s inclusion of New York City street trash to create art with objects gathered from the streets of Ann Arbor. Stepping inside and behind the three-dimensional sculpture, one can see details of windows and roofs and build a vision of a bustling mini-city while listening to distorted sounds on a bright green telephone. The sculpture is a vibrant, festive abstraction of a cityscape that Tucker says “reveals itself” as you walk behind the front view.

The project allowed students, community artists and visitors to explore their skills and personal values. LSA sophomore Tarana Sharma recreated Matsubara Naoko’s “Willow” ink print for interactivity, with hanging mesh roots, begging to be explored and swelling in blues and shades. bright greens. Sharma sought to explore her Japanese heritage by transforming the banyan tree, a symbol of wisdom, into an interactive aerial piece. LSA alum Eleanor Chi graduated in the summer of 2022 and worked with the community to sculpt a towering wireframe human modeled after Alberto Giacometti’s “Tall Figure.” Chi reimagined the bronze piece in a fine interconnected thread to reflect the figure’s calm and openness. Nearby is what VanderVliet called the “teaching method” for student and community artists: the blob. Inspired by the “S2 P2 R AP4” sculpture created by Roxy Paine’s machine, the intriguing and gargantuan red blob was a community effort of trial and error, glue, cardboard and paint. “It was completely analog, dozens of people came to help us,” Tucker said.

The opportunity for creative collaboration with the community made the “carrot” of the project “integrated” for the students. “We didn’t pull nuance throughout this,” Tucker said. Throughout the summer, students bonded and connected with guest artists, families learned new things (like how to use a rotary phone or what’s in the mouth of a sculpture), groups of university staff collaborated, and strangers connected out of a love of art. “FUN” connects people of all ages to art through experience. “We often favor talking and looking,” VanderVliet said of learning, “but there are a lot of people who learn by making and touching materials and wondering how the artists made their objects and thinking about them. ‘asking about the process.’ The project expanded further into the community during the launch of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, when hundreds of people came to view the huge colorful art outside, and the end-of-summer Artscapade , as art once again left the walls of the museum. The gallery’s walls of windows invite people into a new manifestation of what art can be: community-building, ever-changing, and open to questioning and exploration.

Tucker recalls the first day of the student project when “If it wasn’t for you, you knew it right away and moved on. But no one did. Everyone stayed,” Tucker said. This summer, as students and the Ann Arbor community collaborated on stunning artwork, and today, as kids and adults of all ages play with the artwork, “FUN” proves that art is for everyone.

Daily arts writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at [email protected]

About Madeline J. Carter

Check Also

STYX World Tour 2023 arrives at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, January 2023

STYX 2023 World Tour arrives at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at FSW on …