Where Questions Go

  • Posted on Sep 29, 2011 by

My colleague Lauren Adelman stopped by the reference desk a while back. What do you have on murals, she asked.  I knew this would be interesting. Lauren works with MoMA’s Community and Access Programs, partnering with organizations involved with the criminal justice system.  This is part of her broader work as New York Director of Artistic Noise.  I was right: she was working with young men at the Bronx Residential Center to create a mural for their main entryway.

While looking for books, we talked about traditional murals and how they could inform a contemporary work. Lauren then “made a lot of copies of the books...and the participants researched the history of murals through those printouts.”

How did it work out, I asked recently.

“The final project was greatly inspired by a special field trip to MoMA. The teen boys became obsessed with José Clemente Orozco’s Dive Bomber and Tank (1940) and how that painting deals with oppression and they included imagery from that in the bottom of the mural...They were really proud of it and the center loves the painting.”

(You can see Lauren in action with Dive Bomber in this video.)

And the mural was so nice they did it twice: she then worked with teen girls at the Brooklyn Residential Center on another large scale painting inspired in part by the 2010 MoMA exhibition William Kentridge: Five Themes.

I got to know Lauren through MoMA’s Teen Program, when I introduced the group to the Library’s Artists’ Books Collection, hoping to spark ideas for books that the kids would soon create themselves. (What’s an “artist’s book?” For some examples from the Prints and Illustrated Books Department, check out the 2008 exhibition Book/Shelf.)

All this inspired me to organize a session at this weekend’s free Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference. It’s part of the New York Art Book Fair organized by the inimitable Printed Matter.

This session on Artists’ Books in the Juvenile Justice System runs from 2-3.30 Friday, September 30 at PS1. Lauren will be joined by colleague Jessica Fenster-Sparber, School Librarian at Passages Academy. A former program participant may also make an appearance.

I set up the session to ask questions of my own: What does making artists' books offer to incarcerated kids? What challenges come with that? What kind of cool stuff are they turning out?

This is why it’s fun to be a reference librarian: you never quite know where a question will lead.

Jennifer Tobias, Librarian, Reader Services, The Museum of Modern Art

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