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Practical art at the Brooklyn Museum’s new education center

Written by The Anand Market

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It could easily be an alien civilization: its citizens have no gender, no organized religion, no formal government. They inhabit a lush ecosystem of candy-colored vegetation, where plants can grow to infinite heights. Residents ride in ring-shaped driverless buses that hover in the atmosphere. A single year lasts more than two centuries.

Yet, as alien as this environment may seem, you may soon encounter it in Brooklyn. Called “Land of art“, it is an ever-expanding fantasy world and traveling museum exhibition designed by children, molded from plasticine and overseen by internationally renowned artist Do Ho Suh, whose two young girls designed it. On Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m., “Artland” will welcome the public for a free celebration of the newly renovated building. Toby Devan Lewis Educational Center at the Brooklyn Museum, where visitors can sculpt imaginary flora and fauna to add to the exhibit’s spooky jungles.

In a way, the installation symbolizes the new center, which aims to help visitors find their own path to art.

“It’s all about world building, right?” Shamilia McBean Tocruray, the museum’s co-director of education, said in an interview. “It’s about creating opportunity, and it’s really about our invitation to our community to say, ‘Come in here. What can we do together?’

Titled “Artland: An Installation by Do Ho Suh and Children,” the exhibition debuts the Norman M. Feinberg Gallery, just inside the entrance to the redesigned education center. The 9,500 square foot wing also includes three artistic creation studios equipped with audiovisual technology, as well as education offices that promote collaboration.


At the museum’s newly renovated Toby Devan Lewis Education Center, visitors can sculpt imaginary flora and fauna to add to the exhibit’s spooky jungles.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for the New York Times

“Essentially, it was a gut renovation,” said Stephen Yablon, whose firm, Stephen YablonArchitecturedesigned the $9 million project, which he called an “art connector.”

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“The concept was to kind of build a space that would be a tool for people to connect to learning art, to experiencing art and to the museum,” Yablon said in an interview. He added: “The way to do it was to make the entrance very welcoming. So you immediately enter a public space, not a corridor. »

Although the first floor educational wing previously had a gallery, it was devoted exclusively to the work of participants in the museum’s programs. “Artland,” on view through May 5, represents an additional new initiative: presenting an annual interactive exhibition led by a world-class artist.

Few shows are more interactive than this one, which began in 2016 on the dining table of Suh’s London home, where her eldest daughter began building a universe she named Artland, inhabited by creatures in cat shape called Slimes. When her little sister grew old enough, she too got involved, and as they expanded their invented cosmos, which Suh eventually moved to her studio, the little girls wrote an entire mythology for it.

“I called myself an art assistant to my daughters,” Suh said during a video call. While they struggled to add clay creations to Artland, he used recycled materials to build a simple structure that allowed it to extend from the surface of a table to a wall or floor.

Suh, whose works are in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, said he felt sad when the girls, now ages 13 and 10, began outgrow their creation. But he saw a way to preserve it when the Buk-Seoul Art Museum in his native South Korea invited him to do an exhibition for its children’s gallery, where “Artland” becomes a participatory exhibition.

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“It was a huge success,” Suh said. “More than 100,000 children came to the show and contributed. »


A peek inside one of the art studios. Before its renovation, the educational wing, which had not been renovated since its opening in 1980, was dark, cramped and closed.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for the New York Times

In Brooklyn, “Artland” will start on a small scale, with just three of the world’s pre-existing islands placed on small tables. But the gallery offers many more surfaces of different heights for children to develop the project, as well as a video about it and a leaflet explaining its taxonomy.

When young New Yorkers discover “Artland,” Suh says he hopes for an even “bolder” result.

“I hope they will feel concerned,” he added. “And they feel like artists.”

Museum leaders said they hope visitors will respond similarly to the entire renovation. Unlike the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new 81st Street Studio, which is aimed solely at children, the Brooklyn Museum’s educational center will welcome more than 50,000 visitors, young and old, who participate in its offerings each year. These range from Stroller toursfor ages 2 and under, ART Guide (Art, Research and Teaching) volunteer program, which includes many retirees.

And even though the Met attracts many tourists, the Brooklyn Museum’s visitor population is “still very much rooted in local Brooklyn communities,” said Adjoa Jones de Almeida, the museum’s deputy director for learning and social impact. , in an interview. But the educational wing, which had not been renovated since its opening in 1980, was dark, cramped and closed.

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“There’s always been this conversation like, ‘Is it a coincidence that the Brooklyn Museum is the space that serves the most BIPOC audiences and has the seediest spaces of all the encyclopedic institutions’? Jones de Almeida said, using an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. “It was always a very difficult thing to hear.”


Along with the center’s opening, the museum is expanding its programming to offer public drop-in programs every weekend.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for the New York Times

As museum officials began planning for the institution’s 200th anniversary next fall, they wanted a renovation that reflected its legacy as a training ground for artists like Lynda Benglis, Robert Smithson and Richard Mayhew. In addition to designing an open space with flexible seating, the architects raised the ceilings and fitted the education center with glass doors. The installation of tall windows in two of the art studios lets in natural light for the first time.

“There was a lot of talk about visibility, a lot of talk about access,” said Kenneth Kurtz, the museum’s architect. The first studio has side-by-side sinks on two levels; the lower one can accommodate a child or a visitor in a wheelchair.

The redesign also includes a room for museum guides and its programs for teenagers. Equipped with a colorful sofa and dishes for snacking, as well as tables and workstations, this space is “more of a meeting place,” Yablon said.

Along with the center’s opening, the museum, which has no fixed admission – suggested ticket price is $20 for adults and free for anyone under 20 – is expanding its programming to offer public drop-in programs every weekend. Visitors to this Saturday’s celebration will enjoy a photo booth, graffiti wall and zine project, as well as “Artland.”

“Maybe you’ve never taken a painting class in your life, you’ve never thought about sculpture in your life,” Jones de Almeida said, “but you have a place in this neighborhood that is accessible, both physically and financially, where you can develop that skill set and maintain that skill set. That’s really essential to the vision of this renovation, to this idea that we’re all creative.