Artists create works for children's museum

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   Oct. 29, 2002 at 11:43 AM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Three well-known artists have created walk-in works for the Children's Museum of Manhattan, using multi-media techniques to explore how artists conceive their projects and go about giving them form.

It is one of the most ambitious installations ever undertaken by any of the scores of children's museums in cities across the United States, occupying 4,000 square feet of the West Side Manhattan museum's first floor's exhibition space. It will be on view through Dec. 31, 2003.

Andrew Ackerman, executive director of the museum, says the unique aspect of the exhibition, titled "Art Inside Out," is that it literally invites children and their families to step inside the work of contemporary artists. Other children's museums such as one in Los Angeles have worked with artists but not in such an interactive way, he said.

"Our exhibition is different in that once inside, visitors can learn actively and in three dimensions about the process of making art," he said. "Children get to 'play' with the artists' creations, changing colors and composition and composing works of their own. That way they get a better understanding of artistic decision-making and the creative process."

Ackerman said the exhibition was designed to be attractive to adults as well as children, since 50 percent of the museum's visitors are adults who obviously find the experience of watching children experiencing art rewarding. Since there is no precedent for this type of show, he added, so that putting it on is a risk for the 29-year-old museum as well as for the artists involved -- Elizabeth Murray, William Wegman, and Fred Wilson.

The artists met with small groups of public and private school children to elicit their ideas for the show. Those meeting with Murray were fascinated by a huge abstract painting she had just finished and one of them said "What I'd really like to do is jump into the picture." Another suggested turning the painting into a room to walk through.

As a result, the exhibition opens with a room-size, three dimensional mock-up of one of Elizabeth Murray's colorful paintings, a sort of space-age fantasy of a room set with sculptural furnishings, a rug, and a ceiling mobile in designs that recall biomorphic forms. The painting that inspired it hangs on the wall like a guide to the room's contents.

The cut-out elements of a house façade leads the visitor into William Wegman's "home" that includes a living room, studio, bedroom, and kitchen. The rooms contain fanciful versions of everyday objects and photo portraits of Weimaraner dogs in human costume, for which the artist is famous. Video short subjects made by Wegman also are on display to test children's reaction to their weird humor.

The entrance to Fred Wilson's adjoining "museum" is marked by a giant sculpture of a man's head. Several galleries are full of display cases containing reproductions of original and often historic artworks depicting both men and animals in confrontational groups. A series of identical busts of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti painted in gradations of brown is an installation designed to evoke children's thoughts race and art.

Children are invited to make their own installations using Wilson's choice of figurative objects and well as abstract egg-shape wooden blocks. Deborah Schwartz, curator of the exhibition and former director of education at the Brooklyn Museum, points this out as an example of what she wants the show to achieve.

"It's about breaking out of the confines of an art museum into a new setting where fundamental important ideas about the nature of art can be laid out for children and their families," she said. "These are basic ideas about the process of creativity, about artists being problem-solvers, about artists coming from all sorts of different backgrounds and using different kinds of tools, about artists responding to the world around them."

The Children's Museum of Manhattan serves children from infancy through 12 years of age. Approximately 80 percent of children visiting the museum are part of a family group, and 20 percent come in school groups. It has an annual attendance of more than 350,000.

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