Straight from the Artist

If you are a parent of children attending NYC public schools, you know how art, dance and music programs have been cut due to budget issues. This always frustrated and enraged me, as those subjects are often the most engaging and inspiring outlets for kids. But, given that our public schools don’t have the most basic supplies like paper, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In any case, this is  Visual Arts Appreciation Week. For NYC Title 1 public schools, which serve low income families, and have had to result to extreme measures to gather art supplies, some lucky students had a special teaching guest, the pop artist, Jeff Koons. Here’s an overview of this very special art lesson organized by Studio in a School, a nonprofit organization founded by the philanthropist Agnes Gund that brings arts education into the city’s public schools.

For the first time in Studio’s 35-year history, the organization has invited high-profile artists into classrooms to highlight the importance of arts education. Instructors will include Fred Wilson, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Claudia Demonte. Schools that artists will visit include P.S 112 and  P.S. 46 in Harlem, P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side and P.S. 139 in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

From Balloon Dogs to Puppets, Jeff Koons Teaches an Art Class

Artist Jeff Koons helps second graders at P.S. 112 with paper animal sculptures as part of Visual Arts Appreciation Week.Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYCArtist Jeff Koons helps second graders at P.S. 112 with paper animal sculptures as part of Visual Arts Appreciation Week.


June 5, 2012, 9:40 a.m.

By Abbie Fentress Swanson

An artist known for his monumental metal sculptures of balloonlike animals helped teach an East Harlem elementary school on Monday.

Jeff Koons visited second graders at Public School 112 Jose Celson Barbosa and showed them how to make moveable animal puppets using paper and fasteners. His visit kicked off Visual Arts Appreciation Week, during which high-profile artists visit New York City school classrooms to talk about making art.

First, the students talked with Mr. Koons about his iconic 2,000-pound “Balloon Dog” sculptures.

Pointing to a picture of a blue version of “Balloon Dog,” held up by the students’ art teacher, Cathy Ramey, Mr. Koons explained the piece to the class.

“That’s in stainless steel and it’s polished so it has a mirror surface, very reflective … it’s like a spoon,” he said.

Mr. Koons explained that he made his sculptures shiny “so that you could walk by and you could see yourself and realize that by your movement you are affecting the different reflections in the piece and the perception of it.”

Before he scaled his pieces and cast them in steel, he told the children the sculptures were in fact balloons.

“The blue one – the legs down here – looks like it’s going to pop,” said one student, David Marcano.

Then the class got busy making their own moving Godzillas, lizards and butterflies using paper, fasteners and hole punchers.

Janny Moran was having trouble deciding what kind of bird to make.

“Maybe a peacock?” she said. “Or I don’t know what bird … I like birds a lot.”

Mr. Koons said he remembered fondly making art in kindergarten.

“It was a very important aspect of my upbringing,” he said. “Learning about myself, my own possibilities, letting you know you can affect the way you feel through color, line, shape.”

The program that brought Mr. Koons into the classroom is organized by Studio in a School, a group that provides arts instruction to students at 110 Title I schools in the five boroughs. Click here for the week’s schedule of schools and visiting artists.

        Abbie Fentress Swanson covers arts and culture for WNYC and is the editor for WNYC’s Culture Web site. Follow her on Twitter @dearabbie. 

About The Playtime Mom

Unofficial NYC ambassador, play advocate, toy and youth entertainment industry insider and mom
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