During the 2014 Biennial exhibition, Family Programs is working with five different artists in conjunction with our Artist’s Choice Workshop series. On Saturday, March 22, families joined Suzanne McClelland in the fourth floor galleries to look at and discuss her painting Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013. Since the early 1990s, McClelland has made paintings that relate to both spoken and written language. In her Biennial work, she addresses the ways that human bodies are quantified and described by objective numerical measurements. The numbers and words in Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013 are drawn from the ideal male proportions of the chest, girth, thigh, calf, wrist, neck, etc., according to the influential bodybuilders Steve Reeves and John McCallum. Bodybuilders work to transform their bodies, adhering to these strict measurement and aesthetic standards.
In the galleries, the first thing that the kids and adults noticed was the painting’s big, bright, blue numbers. Families discussed other ways we judge things with numbers, such as exams and report cards in school and athletic performance at events like the Olympics. McClelland asked families to focus on where the energy is in her painting and to focus on the gravitational force of pushing or pulling up against something else. They discussed the glimmer of the iridescent paint and the intensity of color and gesture in her paintings.
After the gallery discussion, families moved to the Whitney Studio where they had a chance to try their hand at an art project inspired by McClelland’s paintings. Experimenting with different materials and surfaces, families created unbound books, incorporating their own body measurements into their works.
McClelland said that you can use the same mark on five different grounds and they all look different. Families explored the smooth glide of Sumi ink on Yupo paper, a polypropylene watercolor paper which has a silky finish, as well as the rough scratch of chalk on sandpaper.
McClelland also showed families how you can achieve different qualities by rubbing oil pastels into canvas paper and blending materials with paper towels and water. The marks and gestures that families made came from measuring their own wingspan and body parts and abstracting these numbers in a variety of ways on the different surfaces. One kid even measured his nose and incorporated it into his art!
Using their own measurements, each family created their own abstract, numerical self-portraits, fastening the pages of their book together with a sheet of Japanese rice paper and a gold binder clip. The results were a beautiful collection of unique surfaces, mediums, and abstracted numbers.