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Theaster Gates and PS 33 Chelsea Preparatory

MAY 19, 2010

Did you ever think that school plays and installation art would have anything in common? Whitney educators and 2010 artist Theaster Gates recently worked with a class from one of the Whitney’s partnership schools, PS 33 Chelsea Preparatory in Manhattan, to connect their school musical to the installation works on view now in the Biennial.

One student drew himself performing on Martin Kersels’s 5 Songs. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

One student drew himself performing on Martin Kersels’s 5 Songs. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

A student drew a self-portrait in which she was jumping off Theaster Gates’s Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

A student drew a self-portrait in which she was jumping off Theaster Gates’s Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

The program began with a visit by a Whitney educator to Chelsea Prep’s Art Club. The class, which is comprised of about twenty third and fourth graders, was currently creating costumes, props, and the backdrop for their upcoming school musical, Aladdin. The Whitney educator connected the students’ preparation for the play to the installation and performance works exhibited in the Whitney Biennial. Students were introduced to 2010 artists Theaster Gates and Martin Kersels, who both create sculptural installations which serve as performance spaces. Students made drawings of themselves performing in the installations.  

Students explore Theaster Gates’s sculpture court installation, Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students explore Theaster Gates’s sculpture court installation, Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

On April 23, the Art Club came to the Museum to get a firsthand look at Theaster Gates’s Cosmology of Yard and work directly with the artist. 

Students explore Gates’s Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students explore Gates’s Cosmology of Yard. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Gates described the various elements of his sculpture court installation and encouraged the students to explore the space on their own.

Gates asks students to touch and smell the wood used in the installation. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Gates asks students to touch and smell the wood used in the installation. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Gates distributed wooden boards so that students could work together to create their own sculptures. He encouraged the kids to feel the texture of the material and smell the sweet, gummy aroma of the wood, which the artist salvaged from the former Wrigley gum factory in inner-city Chicago.

Students pose by their sculpture which was inspired by Gates’s installation. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students pose by their sculpture which was inspired by Gates’s installation. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Gates and the class discussed each sculpture and its potential as a space for artistic performance and community gathering.

Students use model magic and Wikki Stix to imagine their own sculptural and performance spaces. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students use model magic and Wikki Stix to imagine their own sculptural and performance spaces. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

The Whitney educator returned to Chelsea Prep for a post-visit to continue the discussion on installation and performance. Inspired by Gates’s work, students used Model Magic and Wikki Stix to make sculptural installations that would create spaces for people to gather and artists to perform. Each group brainstormed ideas about the types of performances that could happen in their installation spaces. The final works were wonderfully varied and spectacular!

This program is part of the classroom collaborative series, a three-part series during which a Museum educator works with the classroom teacher to design a customized program. The Museum educator goes to the school before and after the Museum visit.

By Sarah Meller, Education Assistant