Artists Roam at Unique Children’s Museum Exhibition

Artist Tai Hwa Goh and her daughter at the exhibition.

By Michael McDowell

Anything, and everything, can be art. That’s roughly the idea behind a novel exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan on West 83rd Street, “Art, Artists, & You,” a hands-on, interactive experience featuring four artists in residence and multiple spaces for children—and the rest of us—to partake in a variety of art activities.

The Rag recently had the chance to tour the exhibition, and found a cavernous space filled with colorful and curious work in a variety of mediums. Children and adults milled about in an excited bustle, interacting with artists and art studio leaders installed at stations throughout.

“On any given day, there is at least one artist [at the exhibition]. The door to their studio space is open, but what the artist does with that time is up to them,” said David Rios, director of public programs at the museum, in an interview.

Current artists in residence include Ana Peñalba, Borinquen Gallo, Natalia Nakazawa, and Tai Hwa Goh. A new cohort will arrive in late May, and the selection process is currently underway.

“In this exhibition, we want to remove the veil between contemporary art practice and what it means to be an artist in New York. These four women are professional artists, and this is what they do for a living. They are taking materials kids might find familiar, and that was important. We wanted to find entry points in all of the work—for kids to know what the materials were, to be familiar with them, and then see how the artists take it to another level.”

Rios continued.

“There’s art here that’s abstract and minimalist, but that comes from a very personal place for an artist, and then we have art that speaks to narrative, that speaks to immigration, that speaks to gender, that speaks to race. We hope to show kids that their voice could really come from materials that anybody could access; art is everywhere you find it, and it could be made of anything.”

Tai Hwa Goh, whose texture-rich, dimensional print sculpture occupied a large corner of her studio space, described her process.

“I’m a printmaker, and make three-dimensional sculptures out of my prints, in a honeycomb structure. I begin with biological images, and then try to also make an image part of the scenery,” she told the Rag.

“Even a stamp can become a three-dimensional thing,” she added.

Some of the work exhibited is far more conceptual, but eschews inaccessibility.

“I am an architect, and what I do is about balance and structure. Right now what I am building is artificial nature, and investigating how something man-made can be organic, a creature of nature,” explained Ana Peñalba.

Ana Peñalba’s art.

How do children respond to her work?

“I think they are very excited about understanding balance, and all of my work is always about almost falling, but not falling, real but almost unreal. I’m always in that sort of middle ground,” she said.

Peñalba is experimenting with architecture for nonhumans, and even the design of landscapes for animals.

Natalia Nakazawa.

Natalia Nakazawa’s work, on the other hand, is grounded in human experience, and in part she seeks to highlight personal stories about migration and moments of cross-cultural exchange that may not be widely understood or discussed. Nakazawa is at work on what she called an open-source American flag, to in part depict expanded ideas of nationality.

The piece by Natalia Nakazawa.

Visitors not only have the opportunity to interact with these artists, but also to make art of their own in a handful of laboratory-like stations.

“Here the kids tell us what they want to do. We might present them with some materials, and the educators—the art studio leaders—we consider them artist’s assistant to the kids. The [art studio leaders] range from those who are studying museum education and studio arts, including students at New York University, to aspiring and working artists who have had exhibitions around the city,” Rios said.

At one station, two art studio leaders facilitated weaving using burlap. On other days, they assist children with sewing, crocheting, knitting, making clothes for mannequins, and even constructing stuffed pillows or creatures.

Other stations include paper-based activities, found objects, fiber, and technology.

The museum will eventually move to 96th Street and Central Park West, to the former home of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

“Projects like this are a test run for what we want to do next. We’ve done art exhibits, but we’ve never done this laboratory, if you will. And so we’ve been testing it out and seeing what the response has been, and it’s been interesting. [In a new space,] what replication of this do we want to see?” Rios wondered.

Kat Hernandez, an art studio leader.

Children in the exhibition were involved in many different activities: some contemplated how to fabricate a crab or a lobster in cardboard, while others considered various printmaking options. A number engaged directly with the artists in residence.

“It’s fascinating to see these kids go in with such confidence, pull up a chair, and say, ‘tell me about this art,’” Rios smiled.

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