SchoolArts Magazine

March 2017

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 55 CONTINUED FROM PAGE 14. Reconsidering American Art M U S E U M M U S I N G S CONTINUED ON PAGE XX I n 1992, I took a weekend work- shop for teachers offered by the New Museum in New York City. The workshop was taught by art- ist, architect, and filmmaker Alfredo Jaar (b. 1956), whose work focuses on complex political issues, geography, mapping, and identity. The informa- tion that was conveyed over those two days changed the way I view the world and my place in it—no small feat for a weekend program. A Logo for America A work that I found particularly illuminating was Jaar's A Logo for America, featuring the words "This is not America" emblazoned across the flag and outline of the United States. It was first shown as an animation for the sign above the U.S. Army recruit- ing station in Times Square. What does it mean to make the statement, "This is not America" in the middle of Times Square? For many, it was perplexing, inflammatory. Some thought it was commenting on the dis - mal state of Times Square in 1987—a darker, seedier place than the tourist magnet that it is today. Multiple Americas Jaar was commenting on the use of the term America to refer to the United States of America. For some, this is just a convenient nickname, but to many who inhabit this conti- nent with us, it is a signifier that we have unfairly usurped their place on this land mass known as the Ameri- cas and claimed it as ours. Jaar's work is intended to remind us that the term America refers not to the familiar contour that is identifi- able as the United States, but rather to the hemispheric mass comprising North, South, and Central America, more correctly designated by the plu - ral Las Americas in Spanish. Accord- ing to Jaar: "When I moved to New York in 1982, I was shocked to dis- cover that the daily use of the word America was referring only to the U.S. and not the continent. In Spanish, the word America refers to the entire continent, and it was part of our edu - cation to see ourselves as belonging to America, the continent, as opposed to Europe or Africa, for example." America Today Today I work at the Solomon R. Gug- genheim Museum, where Jaar's work has been acquired as part of the Gug- genheim UBS MAP Global Art Initia- tive. During the summer of 2014, the w ork was part of the exhibition, Under the Same Sun: Contemporary Art from Latin America. The iconic A Logo for America was reenacted every evening for a month on more than five blocks of signs in Times Square. The displays were in LED lighting, more spectacu - lar and visually arresting than the original, but had things changed in the ensuing quarter of a century? In 2015, I traveled to Museo Jumex in Mexico City, where A Logo for America was installed in their expan- sive galleries. It was my task to facili- tate a two-day workshop that brought together educators from museums across Mexico City and other urban centers. I was interested and anxious to discuss their responses to Jaar's work. My conversation with educa- tors confirmed Jaar's pronouncement: the use of the term America to refer to the United States of America made them feel marginalized, disregarded, and alienated. Reconsidering American Art So what does this have to do with teaching art? For me, a major outcome of par- Sharon Vatsky What does it mean to make the statement, "This is not America" in the middle of Times Square? Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1987, computer animation, 45 sec. Commissioned by the Public Art Fund for the Spectacolor Sign, Times Square, New York, April 1987. Photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York. © Alfredo Jaar 14 MARCH 2017 SchoolArts SchoolArts is looking for you to share lessons about contemporary approaches to art education! SchoolArts is looking for articles that feature contemporary artists and examples of contemporary approaches to art education. If you are using contemporary artists in your K–12 classroom and experimenting with exciting new ideas or approaches, we'd love to share your work with our readers. You can find our writer's guidelines at SchoolArts.com/writersguidelines. the use of the term America to refer to the United States of America made them feel marginalized, disregarded, and alienated. Reconsidering American Art So what does this have to do with teaching art? For me, a major outcome of par tici- pating in that workshop was that I stopped calling my country of citizen- ship America and began referring to it as the United States. I assumed that we were well on our way to remedying this iniquity. After all, language was changing around gen der, race, ethnic- ity, and sexual preference, but unfor- tunately the situation may have only grown worse over the years. This problem is way too big for me to fix, but having identified all my adult life as an art educator, I am starting with you. Can we consider additional ways to refer to art pro - duced in this country? How about U.S. art or art of the United States— or just telling our students that although this course is called "Amer - ican Art," what we really learn about is work produced by artists based in the United States? I know "United Statesian" is bulky, but in a world that is becoming increasingly inclusive and global, we need to make strides to acknowledge that the term American art is a serious misrepresentation. Sharon Vatsky is director of school and family programs at the Solomon R. Gug - genheim Museum. SVatsky@ guggen- heim.org W E B L I N K S www.alfredojaar.net/ www.pbs.org/art21/artists/alfredo- jaar?expand=1

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