01.05.17

Gallery-to-Gallery: Pre-K Gallery Exploration

Rob Davis
Head Teacher in an English Section of Pre-Kindergarten, Early Learning Center, Avenues: The World School

The students of Avenues are lucky to have so many world-class galleries at our doorsteps. Within a few blocks of Avenues are dozens of galleries with hundreds of pieces of art, and the opening of every exhibition brings another opportunity for our kids to see something new. Early Learning Center students approach these new shows with enthusiasm and wonder. What is the new kind of art we’re going to see? Are there going to be pieces hanging from the ceiling or in the middle of the room? What is the gallery going to look like this time? Will there be lots of colors or will we spend time analyzing shapes?

Viewing Richard Serra's work at Gagosian.

Viewing Richard Serra’s work at Gagosian.

Before every gallery trip the groups decide on their own “gallery rules.” They understand that art in galleries is special and we aren’t allowed to touch it, but the discussion about why this rule exists is a rich one. They are always curious about whether the art is fragile (“the fancy word for when something can break.”) or if the art might be dangerous (“it might cut us!”). We talk about what a “gallery voice” sounds like and what other types of voices we have in our school. We also talk about what a calm body looks like when we’re in a gallery. Four- and five-year-olds really do understand not only the expectations of gallery attendance, but also the rationale behind those rules.

Getting ready to enter a gallery.

Getting ready to enter a gallery.

On a sunny day in late October, the pre-K Goldfish class was able to demonstrate their best gallery behavior when they headed out hand-in-hand from Avenues to view some art. First, they traveled south two blocks to Pace gallery. They were there to see work by installation artists Random International. The group, most famous in New York for their MoMA installation Rain Room, had four pieces for the kids to see. There were kinetic sculptures that moved and lit up, mirrors that changed as you approached them and a wall of lights that shone as the students stood in front of it. The experience of these installations was something the kids were excitedly talking about as they entered their second gallery of the day, the Gagosian Gallery. There they were met by the overwhelmingly large sculptures of Richard Serra. The pieces on display here were huge, heavy and brought out an entirely different conversation. The students talked less about what they were seeing and more about what they were feeling. They compared the experience of seeing moving sculptures with that of seeing gigantic monochromatic pieces.

The children decide on their "gallery rules" before a gallery visit.

The children decide on their “gallery rules” before a gallery visit.

Students talked about what they were feeling—as opposed to what they were seeing—when they encountered Richard Serra's massive pieces.

Students talked about what they were feeling—as opposed to what they were seeing—when they encountered Richard Serra’s massive pieces.

More recently, the Goldfish and Starfish went to see the Mark Rothko exhibition just across the street from Avenues. This short jaunt brought our young artists face-to-face with nearly colorless abstract paintings. They wandered with a partner through the gallery and talked about how the paintings made them feel. “This one makes me feel like I’m in a warm snugly blanket,” and “this one makes me feel itchy,” were a few of the great responses about how these simple paintings affected our kids. As part of this trip we wandered by Agora Gallery where the director invited our group in. She talked with us about the sculpture in front of the gallery that moves, Walter Rossi’s kinetic sculpture The Eternal Self. We noticed the motor and the cable that powered the piece. The colors, movement and materials of this beautiful sculpture were all discussed. Again the kids were able to compare the two gallery experiences and notice how they were different and the same.

The director of Agora Gallery invited our group in.

The director of Agora Gallery invited our group in.

Now that our students were such practiced and well-behaved gallery attendees, they were ready to throw their own gallery exhibition here at school. On the last Friday before Thanksgiving break our pre-K artists shared their artwork with their friends and family. We held an early morning “gallery” in the Gold and Dorado classrooms that was met with such happiness. Both groups were so proud to share the work they had spent their autumn preparing. Parents, caregivers, other teachers and even our first grade buddies stopped by our Gold/Dorado Gallery. This day may have seemed like a culmination to some, but for our class it was just another stop in our exploration of Chelsea galleries. In the coming months, we’ll put our coats and hats on, change our sneakers for our snow boots, and continue to enjoy all of the rich art that the Chelsea neighborhood has to offer.

Students spent the fall preparing their work.

Students spent the fall preparing their work.

An artist proudly presents his work.

An artist proudly presents his work.

Just another stop in our exploration of Chelsea galleries.

Just another stop in our exploration of Chelsea galleries.

Parents visit the Gold and Dorado gallery.

Parents visit the Gold and Dorado gallery.