Moses and I had our first three tours last week, with children ranging from five to nine years old. For the kindergarteners, we designed an “ABC’s Tour” about lines, shapes, and colors in art. Our first tour stopped at Look Mickey by Roy Lichtenstein, Nightlife by Archibald John Motley, Jr., Steel-Aluminum Plain by Carl Andre, and the Ellsworth Kelly pieces in Gallery 296B. I am a huge fan of children (they are geniuses) and I loved the whole process. Moses and I took turns leading the group, and I presented Nightlife and Ellsworth Kelly. Nightlife was a great experience for me because I had the opportunity to lead the group through a couple of fun activities: I sat on a stool, in my kindergarten-teacher-chic outfit (Miss Honey is basically my role model in life), and handed out necklaces with swatches of color on them. The children pointed out colors they saw in the painting and held up the corresponding colors on their necklaces. We talked about finding shapes in unusual places, like the triangles found in elbow crooks and the rectangles we paint to make arms, and everyone made shapes with their bodies. It was fun to watch how quickly they caught on. When I asked if anyone had questions about the painting, one girl exclaimed, “We haven’t talked about shadow!” So I had her describe the shadows she saw in the painting, and then we talked about where the light must be coming from. To get the point across, I had everyone hover their palms above the floor — there are bright overhead lights in that particular gallery, and the children noticed how their shadows were related to where the light was coming from. That was kind of an awesome moment. Another awesome moment was in the Ellsworth Kelly room, where we tried to push past the basics of color, line, and shape. I asked the students to name the colors in Train Landscape and tell me what the colors reminded them of (“Lemons!” “Butter!” “Sun!” “Grass!”). Then we stood and looked at the painting and tried to imagine what it might represent, if it represented anything at all. I introduced the idea that it might be a simplified view of an upside-down landscape, since they could see the sun and grass in it. From that point on, they saw all sorts of things in the works. In Black and White, they saw a cave full of bats, a close-up of a zebra’s stripes, and their mothers’ cars. In White Disk III, they saw an armless person with no face, and a lollipop, and a confused ice cream cone. One of the most fun objects was East River, where most of the children decided straightaway that the triangles were eyes. “He is wearing sunglasses,” said one girl, while another insisted, “THEY ARE EARS.” Later in the week, with the first through fourth graders, we focused on “interacting with art” and the different forms that can take. My favorite stop during that tour was Gallery 109, a room designed by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. I was never very observant of architecture until this past year — my studio art advisor at Swarthmore, Randall Exon, is a painter who loves architecture, and as students we all took field trips to a small house he built (his painting studio). Seeing something that was built by someone I knew, and thinking about all of the time and imagination that went into the process, forced me to think a lot more about the work that goes into designing spaces. My art major also changed the way I see art in galleries, since I spent my last semester struggling with how to install my senior show. It was a lot of hard work, and my brain almost exploded when I started thinking about how much lighting, size, wall color, and spacing might affect how someone viewed my work and how they felt about it. Remembering all of those tough decisions, and the effort that went into understanding and executing them, makes the Ando Gallery that much more enjoyable.
“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For those of you unfamiliar with the gallery — a dark room with 16 tree-like pillars leading to illuminated glass displays of Japanese art — this is what Tadao Ando had to say about its design:
“If I could be remembered, I would like to be remembered as an architect who courageously pursued his own ideas and ideals without being trifled with the architectural streams of time. I want my work to be able to provoke thoughts in people when they come in contact with the buildings or with the architecture… I want my architecture to embody that power. For example, [in the Japanese screen gallery] I want people to feel as if the wind is passing through these columns and creates something that reminds them of something beyond physicality.”
As one little boy put it when I asked how the gallery made him feel: “IT’S AWESOME. I FEEL AWESOME.”