From Curator of Contemporary Art James Jensen, who had a break from everyday curatorial duties:
Usually an art museum curator’s job encompasses working on exhibitions and the permanent collection, doing research and writing, and lots of meetings and emails. Once in a while, an opportunity comes along to do something different, and I had such an opportunity on Friday, May 4, at Punahou School’s Omidyar K-1 Neighborhood. I received an invitation from the Punahou Explorers’ Kindergarten class through museum trustee Stephanie Hee, whose grandson is in the class, to visit them and see their project inspired by the Maurice Ravel opera, L’Enfant et les Sortileges, and their visit to the museum’s Spalding House to see David Hockney’s installation based on the opera.
I met half the class upon arrival (the other half were off at Physical Education) and got an introduction to their project, then they departed for P.E. and the other half of the class returned and continued to tell me about what they created and how they went about it. The class’ remarkable teachers, Resi Ditzel and Myra Fa’atea, who guided the children through the project, filled in details, augmenting what the students told me. They began by listening to the story of L’Enfant et les Sortileges read to them by the teachers and listened to parts of a recorded performance of the opera. They already had a lot of images and ideas in their heads when they later went to see the David Hockney installation about the story/opera at Spalding House.
Then, they set out to create their own interpretation in a couple of spaces next to their classroom. The architecture of the two spaces lent itself to a similar format as Hockney’s two-room work at the museum. Entering the Punahou Explorers’ L’Enfant et les Sortileges, I found many of the same elements as in Hockney’s: a large painted backdrop in front of which were “flats” painted individually by the students, including shepherds, shepherdesses and cats (Hockney’s version has one black cat in front of a fireplace, but the student’s installation had multiple cats and at least two fireplaces). There also was the schematic chair in which the little boy in the story falls asleep reading a book. Passing through a doorway with painted fabric pulled back on either side, we entered the magical garden of the story. The most prominent element is the red tree, which the students kept red but embellished with sgraffito designs. Pronouncing the word perfectly, a couple of the students explained to me that it is drawing an image into wet paint with a pointed object (in this case, forks). There were also “bat people,” one of the students’ favorite things to make.
While the tree trunk remained red, the students, who had been studying colors, followed their own inclinations by using lots of colors besides the reds, blues and greens Hockney used. In the Punahou L’Enfant et les Sortileges, there is a plethora of colors, especially oranges, yellows and browns. The students created individual leaves for the tree, looking at real tropical leaves and drawing their shapes looking only at them not at the paper, cutting those shapes out, painting them and attaching them to the tree branches.
While the students were excited that a curator had come to see their work, I don’t think they knew what one is or does. They knew I worked at the art museum where they had seen the Hockney installation but didn’t ask questions about my job, preferring in good artist fashion to talk about their work. One asked me how old David Hockney is, and when I replied that he is around 75, they all agreed that that was “really old,” and I replied that from their perspective now it seems old but from mine it didn’t seem old. I don’t think they got that. I told them that Hockney is one of the most famous living artists and is going to have a large exhibition of his recent works at a museum in San Francisco this fall (for readers of this who are interested: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: de Young Museum, Oct. 26, 2013 to January, 2014).
The students went on to tell me about artists besides Hockney that they have been studying—Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh (pronouncing his name perfectly with the guttural sounds that it has in Dutch but which most people don’t attempt). However, they hadn’t been to the Honolulu Museum of Art on Beretania Street to see actual paintings by those artists hanging on the walls, at which point I suggested they ask their parents to bring them to the museum at the next Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday event on May 19. Then it was time for them to get back to more creating and me to go back to my office to catch up on emails.