“You begin with the possibilities of material.”
— Robert Rauschenberg, Artist
Nearly 150 Nueva community members came together to enjoy contemporary art at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on Saturday, March 10. Families attended a special weekend tour with Lower School Art Specialist Reenie Charrière, a practicing artist and former museum educator who guided them through the retrospective entitled Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules.
The impetus for this wonderful event was to bring Reenie’s depth of experience as a museum educator to the Nueva community, and this exhibition seemed tailor-made. Back in 2010, Reenie served at an Artist in Residence at SFMOMA, leading workshops and creating community art with visitors based upon Rauschenberg’s “Collection,” a piece that combines oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas.
“I feel personally connected to contemporary art, and believe that in order to understand art today, students need to learn about it in the same way they learn about more classical forms of art,” explained Reenie. “Rauschenberg was such a pioneer in contemporary art and experimentation, and the concept of erasing the rules is so consistent with Nueva’s commitment to genuine student exploration.”
According to Reenie, Rauschenberg was well-skilled in the classic techniques of art, but never wanted to be stuck in one format. He intended for audiences to personally decide what his pieces meant to them. In addition, he loved collaborating with other artists such as Andy Warhol, and was dedicated to the artistic process, illustrating both his knowledge of materials and his skillfulness in combining them. He was adept at experimentation with different materials he found abandoned or discarded around his neighborhood or on his many travels around the world.
Lower school art classes at Nueva emphasize the balance of technique and experimentation, and students are always trying new materials to make assemblages, collages, sculptures, and installations. Classes often include research of a contemporary artist alongside the practice of new techniques and experimentation, helping students make important connections to history and innovators. Nueva’s Art Appreciation Week this spring will showcase the many wonderful creations of Nueva students.
“The response from the Nueva community to this invitation to SFMOMA was overwhelming, and it was a clear message to me how much Nueva values the arts, and how important this embrace of culture was to our families," said Reenie. “I really appreciated the dedication of the students that attended. They were attentive, open-minded, and engaged, and their questions really impressed me.”
The piece that really captured students’ attention was Rauschenberg’s Mud Muse (1968-1971), a large glass framed tub, larger than a California King sized bed was filled with a goopy mud-like mixture, and fitted with devices that would let out burps throughout the mud. When created, it was a response to our NASA ambitions to land on the moon. Nueva students were in rapture, many speechless.
Nueva fifth grader Chloe L. was on her first trip to SFMOMA. Her favorite Rauschenberg piece was Retroactive I (1963) in which silkscreened images of President John F. Kennedy and the moon landing dominate the canvas. Chloe liked it best “because the artist felt a lot of hope…[Rauschenberg’s] painting inspires me to have ambition.”
Livi P., Nueva seventh grader, is a regular visitor of the SFMOMA, and is currently taking lessons in drawing and painting. He came to this event to expand his knowledge about the art world. “Up until now, I’ve focused on realism and did not know about Rauschenberg,” he said. In describing the impression this exhibit had on him, he shared, “It made me think about how art schools and art teachers teach the definition of art. How do artists actually define art?”
Another student in fifth grade, Erika M., loved every minute of the event, and the next day got immediately to work creating her collage as a reflection of the tour. She said, “I was inspired to create this collage because of the collages and 3D-ness of Robert Rauschenberg's work. I found that SFMOMA was full of interesting designs and patterns which were very intriguing to me.”
With such an overwhelming number of RSVPs, Wayee Chu, Nueva parent and member of SFMOMA’s Board of Trustees, teamed up with Reenie to create an expanded schedule for the day that included three museum docent tours of additional exhibits running in parallel with Reenie’s presentations: Alexander Calder/SFMOMA Oculus, the Pop Art collection, and the works of minimalists Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly.
Both Reenie and Wayee were thrilled to see the turnout for this event and look forward to creating new opportunities for the Nueva community to experience art. “It was amazing,” said Wayee. “We had such a wonderful mix of generations and interest levels, with many bringing members of their extended families. There’s clearly a huge interest and demand. I am seeking feedback from our attendees and hope to create additional ways to incorporate contemporary and innovative art into the Nueva experience.”
And in the immediate future, more experiences are on the horizon. Reenie will accompany the third grade to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to tour the “Art of Rube Goldberg” exhibit, where they will also create their own chain reaction, combining science and techniques of art they are observing. Students in fifth grade will visit the Oakland Museum on an interdisciplinary study of art, history, and science.
By Dianne Willoughby, Editorial Manager
March 21, 2018