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Work in Progress: See you at the show!

August 27th, 2010

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and is an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Well, the time has come for my internship here at the AGO to draw to a close, which unfortunately means that my blog posts about the upcoming exhibition At Work: Hesse Goodwin, Martin will have to end also. But don’t worry, you’ll only have to wait a few short weeks before the exhibit opens, and you can see first hand everything I have been writing about!

With this blog, and with the show, we wanted to focus on the hard work that is involved in any artistic endeavour, whether it is painting, sculpting, writing, or creating an exhibit. I hope you have enjoyed hearing about the amazing work of Eva Hesse, Betty Goodwin and Agnes Martin, and about what goes on behind the scenes here at the AGO. I know I have had a great time learning about, working on, and writing about this exhibition, and I hope I have been able to communicate some of that excitement to you! I look forward to seeing you all when the exhibition opens on September 22nd.

Work in Progress: Getting to know Agnes Martin

August 20th, 2010

Agnes Martin was another prolific and dedicated artist whose work will be featured alongside Eva Hesse and Betty Goodwin’s in the upcoming exhibition At Work. Although born in Saskatchewan in 1912, Martin spent most of her life in the US after moving there as a teenager. Her time studying, living and working in the American Southwest greatly influenced her as a person and as an artist.

A deeply spiritual artist influenced by the Eastern philosophical traditions of Taoism and Buddhism, Martin wanted her work to represent the sublime. For her, art was about happiness, a happiness that comes from the perception of universal beauty in the world. Believing that this beauty existed in the mind, rather than in the physical world of objects, Martin renounced explicit connections to the material world in her painting by using simple lines and grids, and limiting her use of colour. While her paintings can be seen to refer to the natural world in their titles (The Rose, The Islands) and in their forms (lines perhaps representing the horizon, grids the division of farmers fields) Martin did not wish to dictate the interpretation of her work, instead wanting the viewer to come to terms with their own impressions of and feelings about her paintings. In keeping with that thought, listen to her speak for herself in this great interview:

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Getting to know Betty Goodwin

August 13th, 2010

I introduced you to some of the reading and research I have been doing on the life and art of Eva Hesse, and this week I ‘d like to do the same for Betty Goodwin. Goodwin is one of Canada’s most acclaimed artists of this past century, and for good reason. In her five decade long career, she worked and experimented with a variety of media (drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture) with remarkable determination and dedication.

Born in Montreal in 1923, Betty Goodwin had a talent and passion for art at a young age. Her early work consisted of still life and landscapes paintings, but in the sixties she focused more on portraits and figures. However, one of the major developments in her career came in the late sixties when she began to study etching, and eventually created her own innovation on the etching process. This resulted in some of her most well-known works, namely her ‘vest’ series.

Goodwin is known for creating series of works that have recurring images and motifs, and in At Work, you will get to see the process of how she developed and reworked these ideas and themes through the juxtaposition of her notebooks with her finished pieces. Both the themes and images Goodwin used in her work, and the fact that they are continually reiterated, suggest a focus on ideas of memorialization and mourning. Goodwin herself wrote that “there is something else, something more remote than the memory of objects, that I wish to attain. I mean a record of feelings and sensations. Everybody has histories of this kind, whether they know it or not. But I don’t want to relate my history through words.”

If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about Betty Goodwin, I would recommend taking a look at this catalogue.

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Getting to know the artists of At Work

August 6th, 2010

Eva Hesse, Studiowork, 1969
Courtesy of The Estate of Eva Hesse
Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York

One of the most intriguing parts of the process of working on At Work has been immersing myself in the worlds of each of the three featured artists. Contemporary art prompts you to ask questions. What was the artist trying to convey, and what were their thoughts and ideas? What were they trying to work through? Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to start off this discussion by sharing some of my research on the art and lives of Eva Hesse, Betty Goodwin and Agnes Martin.

German-born American artist Eva Hesse‘s short life was filled with struggle – separation from her family during their escape from Nazi Germany, her mother’s suicide, her failed marriage, and illness (she died at 34 of a brain tumour). But through it all she created a huge body of work that speaks to her creative and resilient spirit.

Hesse pushed the boundaries of sculptural practice in the 1960s, and is known for experimenting with unconventional materials such as latex, fibreglass, cheesecloth, and rope. Her sculptures are playful, but also startlingly visceral. The structure of her works sometimes suggest the body, and you can also sense her own presence in her work – you can see how she would have folded, wrapped or shaped the materials she used.  The passage of time comes across in her art as well, both the time taken to create the pieces, as well as the effect of time on them. The materials Hesse used are fragile, and the works deteriorate over time, but these changes in the artworks themselves perhaps reflect our changing interpretations and impressions of art. Hesse herself did not assign fixed meanings to her works, she wanted viewers to reach their own conclusions, based on their own experiences with her art.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Eva Hesse, here are a few of the books that I have been avidly reading:

Eva Hesse: Studiowork is the catalogue that will be available in our shop during the run of this exhibition.

Eva Hesse, by Lucy Lippard is one of the best known books on the artist, and Lucy Lippard will be speaking at the AGO on September 28th. I know I’m excited! You can get tickets here.

And this collection of essays contains an amazing interview with Eva Hesse herself.

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Audio Stations for At Work

July 30th, 2010

Audio visual station

The past couple of weeks have been exciting around here, at least for me, as I am starting to see everything I have been working on for our upcoming show, At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin, be realized. One of those things has been the audio elements we’d like to include in the show. While we are not producing a traditional audio guide, we will have some audio stations in the galleries, to provide you, our visitors, with a different way to gain insight into the lives and work of the artists. The process of creating these audio elements has been very interesting. Scripts need to be written, interview questions thought of, extensive editing done by our media team…I didn’t even know that an art gallery would have a recording studio, and now I can say that I have sat in one!

Audio stations can be a great way to provide different perspectives on the artwork in an exhibit, particularly when they are varied in terms of content and style. When At Work opens, you will have the opportunity to listen to one of our archivists talk about visiting Betty Goodwin’s studio and why the AGO is so interested in her notebooks. For a completely different experience, you will also be able to sit back, relax and listen to a soothing recording that guides you through a new way of looking at Agnes Martin’s work, The Islands.

If you are interested in getting a sense of some of the work featured in the show in audio form, Matthew Teitelbaum, the Director of the AGO discusses Agnes Martin’s painting The Rose, featured in this exhibition, as part of the AGO’s pre-existing  Director’s Highlights podcast series.

Click here to play:

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What are your thoughts on audio stations or tours? Do you use them, and if so, do they enhance your experience in the gallery?

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Writing for At Work

July 23rd, 2010

My desk

Hello again! I’m still here, working away on At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin. Only now, instead of being lost in the stacks of the library, or clutching my coffee at the meeting room table, I can be found with my eyes glued to my computer, writing, writing, writing!

One of the most common ways for galleries and museums to help visitors learn more about the objects in exhibits is through written material. This is usually in the form of wall panels and labels. Because we know that people usually visit the gallery to experience art, and don’t necessarily want to read a dissertation, the process of deciding what text to include in exhibits, and what information it contains, is a carefully considered one. And interpretive planners play a large part in this process.

Text panel in the fourth floor contemporary galleries

Right now I am valiantly trying to take all of the research that I have done, all the knowledge the curators have, and turn that into something that people will want to read! How do I present all the necessary information without it being overwhelming? How do we make sure that the content of the text fits with the overall theme of the show? And how do I write in a way that is engaging and that enhances visitors’ own personal experience with the art?

One thing we’d like to include as part of the text in this show is the writing of the artists themselves. Agnes Martin in particular wrote poetry and essays, and kept journals. Her writing gives an insight into her life, and this knowledge helps me look at her art in a different way. What do you think? Can reading an artist’s writings help you interpret their art?

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Installation planning in At Work

July 16th, 2010

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and is an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Before I started working in museums and galleries, I never really thought about the placement and installation of elements of an exhibition; I just enjoyed seeing and learning about art and artifacts. I didn’t wonder whether a painting was hung in a certain space only because it wouldn’t fit on another wall, or whether a text panel was placed so that it would be one of the first things you saw from the entrance to the exhibit. These are important considerations, and I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the process of installation planning.

The placement of the art in At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin is the responsibility of the curators, but so many different factors have to be taken into account, and curators get input from many different sources. Designers figure out how everything fits on the floor plan, and engineer the display elements. Conservators decide whether a given work is too fragile to hang near a window, where sunlight could damage it. Preparators determine the best way to install a work given its size, weight and materials, and the desired location. And interpretive planners point out how the placement of art can shape the message of the exhibit, and influence visitors’ interpretations.

One of the major installation projects for At Work involves archival material from Betty Goodwin’s studio. We want visitors to see how Betty Goodwin worked through her ideas and planned her artwork, and we think a great way to do this is to exhibit her many, many notebooks, which contain her sketches and writings. We want to place them right next to some of her finished works, so that you can see both the early stages and end products of her creative process. So laying out the notebooks (there are over 80 of them!), and constructing and placing cases for them is occupying everyone’s minds right now.

Betty Goodwin studio, rue Coloniale, Montreal, April 29, 2005. Documentary photographs by Amy Furness, AGO.

Exhibition services staff member Cecil working on the cases for At Work

And, as I mentioned, this planning process isn’t just applied to art! We have to decide where to put text panels, audio stations, and video screens. What makes sense in terms of the message of the exhibit? Are visitors more likely to notice a text panel if we put it on the left or the right side of the room? Will visitors have enough room to move around if we put a case here? Are electrical outlets available for the video locations? These are all very basic pragmatic concerns, but they are so important to the outcome of the exhibit. As much as it is a lot of work, this process really lets us see how everything is coming together.

Work in Progress: Putting the ‘art’ in Participation

July 9th, 2010

What kind of experiences do you enjoy when you visit art galleries? What do you find the most captivating elements of an exhibition? And what can galleries do to really draw you in, and get you intimately involved with art?

These are some of the things I am thinking about as I continue working on the interpretive strategies that will be a part of At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin. What are ‘interpretive strategies,’ you say? Well, last week I talked about interpretive planning, and these strategies are basically just the components of the exhibition that we use to connect you to the art, to kick-start the process of interpretation, of understanding, that you engage in every time you look at a work of art. We write all of these elements into an ‘interpretive plan,’ which is our road map to exactly how each theme, idea and piece of information contained in the exhibit is communicated. As I mentioned previously, video is one method of interpretation, as are text, audio tours/guides, and hands on activities. Interpretive strategies are even at work (pardon the pun) outside the exhibition space, in the form of events, lectures and online activities.

Drawing station in the Henry Moore gallery

One of the things that we at the AGO think is vital to interpretation is the element of participation. We want visitors to feel involved and active, not just resigned to shuffling through the galleries, diligently looking at each work for the requisite 5 seconds, and moving on. Engaging visitors in the process of interpretation, and even in creating exhibition content, is something that museums and galleries are putting more and more emphasis on. If you’re interested, you can read about some really neat ideas on participation in arts institutions on Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog. The AGO already has some great strategies in place to invite visitor participation and engagement, like the drawing stations you may have seen in the galleries. It’s wonderful to see people taking the opportunity to be creative, and the contributions (which we do look at) from our visitors are often amazing responses to, and critiques of, our collections and exhibitions.

Sculpture station

So how are we going to get our visitors engaged in At Work? How about a chance to flip through the notes and sketches of Betty Goodwin, to see how she planned her artwork? What about the opportunity to work with some of the materials Eva Hesse used in her sculpture, and to create and/or collaborate on a piece of your own? Or a contemplative, guided listening experience to help you immerse yourself in the serene world of Agnes Martin’s The Islands? I hope these potential ideas sound interesting to you, as I am very excited by all the possibilities.

But now we have to figure out what we have to do to get them off the ground. What do we have to buy, build, photograph or record? How long is this going to take, and who is going to do it? This is where exhibitions really are a giant team effort, with curators, designers, interpretive planners, conservators, and exhibition services staff all coordinating and communicating with one another on how to make everything happen. It’s a lot of fun, but I suspect I’m going to be very busy…..

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work in Progress: Interpretive planning in At Work

July 2nd, 2010

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and is an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

The work on At Work continues! The research phase is over (the amount of time I have spent in the AGO library is truly alarming), and now we move on to the planning stages. This entails many, many meetings, brainstorming sessions, and flow charts (basically I get to channel my inner kindergartener and use brightly coloured markers and flip-chart paper). The curators, interpretive planners, and myself, the illustrious Interpretive Planning Intern, do all of this to figure out how we can make At Work the most engaging and interesting exhibit it can be.

You may well ask – what on earth is interpretive planning? This is not a silly question; a year ago I couldn’t have told you either, and now I am looking to make it a career! Interpretive planners basically act as liaison between gallery visitors and curators. We map out how to best present the art, which the curators so carefully select, along with all of the incredible knowledge curators have, in a way that makes you, the visitor, excited to see and know more.

Doing this involves asking questions: What do visitors already know about a particular artist, style or subject? What information do we want to present in the exhibition? And, most importantly, how can we help you have a satisfying experience in the gallery and be as captivated and excited by the art as we are? Many of these questions are answered by you, our visitors. On a visit, you may have seen staff members, or interns like me, standing in galleries. Perhaps we pestered you with questions, hoping to hear your feedback. We’re always curious to hear what you like, what you don’t like, and what you think could be improved upon in our exhibits, and what you tell us, along with all this other information,  informs how we create and design upcoming shows.

I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of visitors in the past few weeks, and one of the things that many people really seemed to enjoy was hearing artists talk about their work in their own words. Video interviews or documentaries playing in the gallery allowed them to learn more about that artist’s background and inspirations. So, some of the things we are considering as we move forward in planning At Work are, do we use videos in the exhibit? If so, which ones, and where do we put them? How can we best provide information on the lives of Eva Hesse, Betty Goodwin and Agnes Martin so that you, the visitor, can have a fulfilling experience engaging with their art?

Some of our past in-gallery videos are posted on here on the Art Matters blog – you should check them out, and let us know what you think! Do you watch videos in museums and art galleries? What are you interested in finding out about artists and their work? What helps you better engage in the process of interpretation that you as a visitor undertake when you visit an art gallery? I really want to know!

To give you an idea of some of the art that will be featured in this show, here is a video clip of curator Briony Fer discussing the studiowork of Eva Hesse, at the Fruitmarket gallery in Edinburgh, where these pieces are coming to us from.

Work In Progress: Behind the scenes of At Work

June 25th, 2010

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and is an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Work is a learning experience, a process of self-discovery, whether you are an artist, student, CEO, or an intern like me. Everyday you are improving your skills, contributing to your field, and (hopefully!) making a name for yourself.

These are concepts that the artists featured in an upcoming exhibition have grappled with, and which play out in their art. The show, appropriately titled At Work, opens September 22nd, and focuses on the artistic practice of three seminal female artists active during the 60s and 70s: Eva Hesse, Betty Goodwin and Agnes Martin. These three women were incredibly dedicated to their work, and were constantly pushing the boundaries of their respective fields, and of their practice. This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to peer into the inner world of their lives, studios and art.

Before anyone gets a chance to see the show, I’d like to show you what goes on behind the scenes – the work that goes into the making of an exhibition. With this weekly blog series, I’d like to share my perspective on the processes involved in creating an exhibit for the AGO, as I learn about them.

Although I am an intern here at the AGO, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an art expert. And when I was first informed that I would be working on this exhibit, I was a little terrified! Much like many visitors to the AGO, visual art and art history are not my background, and although I appreciate art, there will always be more for me to learn. The first step for me in the process of developing this exhibition was to learn about these three artists, and study their work, in much the same way that curators do. I went to the library, took out stacks of books, read artist profiles, looked at images, and made notes, all the while trying to gain insights into the inspiration, drive, and processes of these women that allowed them to create paintings and sculpture as arresting as the ones that you will see in this exhibition.

I hope that you will follow along with me through my work on this exhibition, and get an insider’s view on what goes on behind the scenes at the AGO. Perhaps you will get inspired yourself, whether to do something creative, to come see the exhibit when it opens, or just to think about the work you do in your day to day life, and what it teaches you about the world, and about yourself.