Student Art League visits NYC

It was 5 a.m., roughly 12 hours after most students’ Spring Break had started, when 30 members of the Student Art League gathered in Folk Hall with bags packed to go to New York City. Bundled up against the persistent March snowfall, students hurried onto the bus to catch a few hours of sleep before the first day began. Many had been to New York before, and quite a few were going with the Student Art League for the second, third or even fourth time.


 

It was 5 a.m., roughly 12 hours after most students’ Spring Break had started, when 30 members of the Student Art League gathered in Folk Hall with bags packed to go to New York City. Bundled up against the persistent March snowfall, students hurried onto the bus to catch a few hours of sleep before the first day began. Many had been to New York before, and quite a few were going with the Student Art League for the second, third or even fourth time.

Yet, many others had never been to New York City before, and their anxious heads buzzed with questions, although students were well prepared for the trip. Hui Chu, one of Akron’s printmaking teachers and the leader of the trip, had distributed detailed information regarding art museums, galleries, maps and interesting attractions that were not to be missed. She also created a New York test that helped students self-educate on the city and plan their own trip, and playfully threatened students who were hesitant to turn in their tests that they would ride with the cargo on the bus.

After six hours of admiring the Pennsylvania landscape and sleeping sitting up, the bus arrived at the cozy Upper Manhattan hostel. While the shared rooms were smaller than a single dorm, most students were too excited to get started exploring the city to care. Keys were passed out, directions were given to the nearest subway station and each person began his or her own adventure.

As it was a group of art majors, most students forfeited seeing some of the typical tourist attractions such as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building in order to dedicate their time to experiencing all of the art and culture that the city has to offer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a must-see for all on the trip. The museum’s collection includes art from all of recorded history. Students were able to get up close to the beautiful, rare artifacts that they had studied extensively in their art history classes, such as Green Kouros statues and medieval relics.

There was a beautiful African art exhibit, featuring impossibly enormous canoes, headdresses and decorations. The Met showcased modern and contemporary art as well. Salvador Dali’s Madonna, Georgia O’Keefe’s Red, White, and Blue Cow Skull and works by other famous artists, like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, were on display. Students could sit and sketch the marble sculptures of gods and goddesses that seemed to breathe with lifelike detail and beauty.

Another imperative stop was the Guggenheim Museum. This museum, which was free the night that the students arrived, is a work of art in itself. The main part of the building is organized into a large, white, cake-like structure with a winding ramp that spirals up six continuing floors. The art is arranged and lit, one piece after another, in beautiful alcoves. The museum was exhibiting Abstract Expressionist art from New York during 1910-1918, all from the collection of Peggy Guggenheim. Some of the most memorable works included paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Piet Mondrian. One special exhibition at the museum featured two projectors, one displaying evocative images from simple photographs, and another showing poetry. Students were dizzy with excitement (and lack of sleep) as they wandered up and down the spiral of the museum, many taking notes of work for later reference.

Many students had the best experience at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA. The University funded the tickets for the museum, which was helpful and encouraging to students who had limited travel expenses. This was one of the few times that the whole group met up. MoMA had six floors, organized by time period and media. It was exciting to walk straight into the Contemporary Art section and feel immersed in the most current, pertinent art scene. One exhibit very similar to the Akron Art Museum’s recent Who Shot Rock exhibit featured posters, music videos, zines and other music-related art. The painting section of the museum had some extremely impressive pieces, such as Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avingon and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Almost all of the Akron students were drawn to the enormous Andy Warhol exhibit. The main feature of the exhibit was Warhol’s Screen Tests. These short films were intimate, moving portraits of celebrities and friends of Warhol who visited The Factory. Also shown was The Kiss, which consisted of recordings of couples kissing for five-10 minutes, and Sleep, which was a recording of a man sleeping. Warhol’s work was the first to make the viewer question what art really is; whether a video of a man sleeping for hours was a proper expression of the act and feeling of sleep, or was too simple to be considered art. His art and the multitude of mediums that he worked in reflect a transitional period in the entire art world.

Students adventurous enough to travel to Long Island could also see PS1, which is MoMA’s contemporary art museum. This museum showed the most current work in the art world. Some of the most exciting parts of this museum were Laurel Nakadate’s show, Only the Lonely, which was a collection of her very personal photography, films and experimental work. She traveled the country, finding men who would invite her into their homes and do various favors she requested from them such as celebrate her birthday, draw pictures of her or look at provocative photos of her, all in attempt to show the ways that we try to counteract loneliness with human interaction. Almost everything in the museum was about participatory work, such as a huge room that put the viewers into an arcade-like video game that they could actually play. This was a good introduction to the world of new media, a medium of art that Akron has just begun to offer as a minor.

If seeing world-famous museums and works of art was not educational enough for Student Art League members, students were also able to learn to navigate the city of New York on their own. It was imperative that students learned how to use public transportation, and many found their niches on the subway, the buses or even taxis. Once this was learned, the possibilities became endless for exploring; different districts and neighborhoods, including Chelsea (where an enormous amount of art galleries are located,) Times Square, Brooklyn, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village and Williamsburg (the hipster capital of the world) were opened to students with public transit know-how.

This annual trip is a fantastic opportunity for art students to travel and immerse themselves in the history and current world of art. Not only does it offer an easy, inexpensive way to get to New York City and a safe place to stay for students to match up with like-minded and helpful peers, but also allows knowledgeable teachers to help students navigate the city and give them tips on how to best enjoy their time there.