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Learning at the museum

Art show commemorates 20 years of educational programs at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art

Untitled, 1946, by Evgen Bavcar, Slovenian photographer, a major figure in the exhibit

Evgen Bavcar/Public Domain Image Untitled, 1946, by Evgen Bavcar, Slovenian photographer, a major figure in the exhibitEvgen Bavcar/Public Domain Image

The exhibit Educação como matéria-prima [Education as raw material], currently on display at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM), is shedding light on a seldom seen yet essential side of museums: the relationship between the artistic experience and the production of knowledge.  The show that commemorates 20 years of educational activities at the museum deals with key aspects of creation and aesthetic perception.  Among other things, a permanent team of seven educators oversees a schedule of ongoing and temporary programs, in addition to welcoming school groups and training teachers.  In the current exhibit, education is not merely a theme or curatorial buzzword, but rather a set of works that communicate with each other and whose very creation, by seven individual artists, was built upon knowledge, exposure to learning and the relationship between audience and artwork.

“The museum is a school.  The artist learns to communicate.  The public learns to make connections.”  This statement, by Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer, emblazoned on the entrance to the museum, sums up the purpose of the show.  “Our goal is to have the visitor develop his or her own perceptions by assigning and expanding meaning,” explains Daina Leyton, exhibit curator and guest lecturer from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), along with Felipe Chaimovich, professor in the Fine Arts program at the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP). Educators and artists put in charge of a series of discussions, workshops and other activities until the show closes June 5, 2016 conceived the entire exhibit to reinforce this perceptual awakening that guided the selection of works and audience activities.

Two works from the museum’s collections were selected for inclusion as central pillars in the curated undertaking: the pieces Café educativo (Learning café) by Jorge Menna Barreto, and Expediente (Workday) by Paulo Bruscky.  Both depend on audience presence and participation. Since the works acquire meaning only when experienced by the public, they become mobile instruments of poetic perception.  Café educativo, a work in progress that changes with each presentation, consists of a café installed in the exhibition space that serves as an open area for interaction between educators and audience.  In its current version, the artist chose to use low furniture, overstuffed pillows and little reading tables, and visitors can stroll barefoot while thumbing through books and enjoying a cup of coffee.  The work Expediente brings the educators’ workspace into the museum.  Desks were moved to the exhibition space where the educators will work until the exhibit closes.  “The presence of the educational department is visible and work is actually being done.  It is not a passive work of art,” Chaimovich points out.

Views of the work Café educativo by Jorge Menna Barreto, which brings educators and visitors together

Rafael RoncatoViews of the work Café educativo by Jorge Menna Barreto, which brings educators and visitors togetherRafael Roncato

The dialogue between art and audience continues in other pieces in the exhibit.  Stephan Doitschinoff, for example, designed specifically for the exhibit a video game that deals with notions inspired by French philosopher Michel Foucault.  Ironically, the stages of the game are associated with what Foucault classified as disciplinary institutions such as school, industry, asylum or gated community.  To play, one simply has to kneel down on a kneeler.  Amilcar Packer addresses questions associated with colonization, consumerism and commercialism in Constelações (Constellations), a piece that uses everyday objects hung from the ceiling, accessible by pulleys and complete with information about their origins and nomenclature.

“To see is to know; if you do not know, you cannot see,” says Slovenian photographer and philosopher Evgen Bavcar, a major figure in the development of thinking about accessibility and poetic freedom that guides the show.  Blind since the age of 12, he creates works that expand perception beyond the limits of sight and is represented in the show by a collection of photographs he has taken along with a set of 3D reproductions of objects found in his images that the public can actually touch.

In addition to the exhibit and a series of lectures and activities proposed by the invited artists, the anniversary commemoration for the education department includes release of the book Obras mediadas (Facilitated artwork), in which 10 educators each selected one work to analyze from the collection, thereby demonstrating the importance of investigation in this field.  “Every educator is a researcher,” says Leyton.