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Students explore art, artistic practice during NYC semester

Jada Haynes ’19
William Staffeld/AAP
Jada Haynes ’19, right, describes her artwork for fellow students at AAP NYC.

Cornell art students in New York City this spring created and exhibited their work, met leading artists and curators, and took on internships during the bachelor of fine arts semester at AAP NYC.

The 14 students took studio and seminar classes, an interdisciplinary art history course and a professional practice course with an internship component. Class discussions, readings, writing assignments and studio projects were augmented by access to the city’s artistic and cultural bounty.

“The really salient feature of the program is the art, and the resources the city has to offer,” said curator and writer Linda Norden, visiting critic in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

While teaching a senior thesis seminar in Ithaca last year, Norden was surprised that “the students had seen so little art. They were B.F.A. majors and it seemed everything they knew, they had seen online.”

For students studying professional practice in New York City, she sought “to program the class in a way that was intensive but focused, with a lot of great access to art, artists and curators,” she said. “Readings were very selective and there was a lot of intensive time spent looking at art – some in class, and most on site. I worked at something I have a particular bias toward, close reading of the art itself, and getting at the artists’ intentions. We had a lot of amazing discussions in class.”

chair Michael Ashkin critiques B.F.A. students’
William Staffeld/AAP
Associate professor of art and department chair Michael Ashkin critiques B.F.A. students’ work at AAP NYC.

Visiting lecturer Jane Benson and visiting critic Beverly Semmes, both artists, also arranged several artist studio visits. “Jane and I were both trying to have the students see not only the artist, but how they make their art in New York,” Norden said. “The model was to have the students deal with art as they encounter it, not only as they read about it.”

“Beverly structured the studio [course] incredibly well,” Norden said. “She started with them doing a lot of street photography to get to know New York, followed by a short stint of figure drawing, and then she orchestrated ‘Blue,’ a themed midterm exhibition of student work.”

Visiting lecturer Masha Panteleyeva’s art history course, subtitled “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Metropolitan Studies,” covered contemporary art and urbanism, architecture and city planning, including the work of Robert Moses. Her class visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, where one of its architects discussed design decisions.

“I liked how we complemented each other,” Norden said of her colleagues. “We see different things in the work, and ask different things of the students. We all wanted to instill a sense in the students of working at something.”

Firsthand experiences and encounters around the city included exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1, the Whitney Museum of American Art and New York University’s Grey Gallery (“Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City”), and two major art fairs, Independent New York and The Armory Show at Piers 92 and 94.

Students show their work for critique
William Staffeld/AAP
Students show their work for critique in Beverly Semmes’ studio art class at AAP NYC.

Students met with Whitney curator Donna De Salvo and toured the Whitney Biennial with co-curator Mia Locks; and visited artist Paul Chan’s gallery show and the publishing office he runs. A field trip north of the city took them to Dia:Beacon, which houses the Dia Art Foundation’s contemporary art collection. Benson organized a visit to the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, which supports art, social justice and cultural resources for areas of the city in need.

Guest lecturers at AAP NYC included artists Katie Holten, Damien Davis (followed by a studio visit), Nayland Blake and Ryan Trecartin.

Internships at artist studios, galleries, museums and nonprofits were an option about half the students took this year. Among them, Kelsey Burgers ’19 and Ashley Mbogoni ’19 both worked for artist Ann Craven, “who has done internships every year for this program,” Norden said. “I think she went out of her way to structure assignments for them.”

Jada Haynes ’19 interned in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s concerts and lectures department. Le-Tone Wei ’19 worked with Time In Children’s Arts Initiative, a nonprofit enriching the lives of children from underserved schools.

Maggie O’Keefe ’19 wrote on the AAP NYC student blog that working at the Gagosian Gallery on the Upper East Side gave her “some insight into what it is like to work in the commercial art market.” Students also explored their own practices, making art and mounting two exhibitions, in March and early May.

“I can’t say enough positive things about how much the students improved between a midterm show and the end,” Norden said.

The B.F.A. program “represents a unique opportunity for our young artists,” AAP NYC executive director Robert Balder ’89 said. “The semester-long immersion challenges their assumptions and encourages each student to reflect on new ideas and concepts; no one leaves unchanged.”

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Daryl Lovell