Reflections on a Graduate Course: Is Modern Art Spiritual?

Primarily red painting of the head of christ by Alfonso Ossorio

Alfonso Ossorio, Head of Christ, 1950. Ink and watercolor on torn paper, 30 x 22 in. Ossorio Foundation, Southampton, New York

I’ve been volunteering at the Phillips for more than ten years and have enjoyed the perks that come with it—free membership, preview tours of new shows, holiday parties in the Music Room, and more. However, I had never taken advantage of courses at the Center for the Study of Modern Art until the spring 2013 semester.

Phillips Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Leinberger alerted me to the opportunity to audit a course on a topic that interests me: spirituality and modern art. I contacted Megan Clark, Manager of Center Initiatives, and was soon enrolled.

I was a little intimidated as I took a seat in the Center’s seminar room with eight graduate students in art history from George Washington University. It had been 50 years since my last graduate seminar, and I was old enough to be the grandfather of these young women—and the father of our professor, Valerie Hellstein, the Center’s 2012-13 post-doctoral fellow.

But things quickly fell into place. Lisa changed my shift schedule to accommodate my seminar participation. The GW students soon came to be my fellow students. And Professor Hellstein (“Val”), though setting high performance standards, was friendly, accommodating, and accessible.

A highlight for me was an encounter with fellow student Beth Evans when I was at the volunteer desk. We discovered we shared a love of Goya’s The Repentant St. Peter on display in the Music Room.  I had written a volunteer’s  “Adopt a Painting” paper on it, and, as an intern in the Phillips’s education department, Beth was preparing a Spotlight Talk on it. Later on I attended her talk—it was great!

The required readings for the seminar were difficult, and the discussions rigorous—but they awakened an intellectual excitement I had not experienced in years. I was not required to do a seminar paper, but I did: my paper on Alfonso Ossorio came back with a comment from Val that began, “Gerry, this is quite good.” What more could a volunteer-wannabe-art-historian ask for!

Gerry Hendershot, Volunteer

Where Are They Now: Pedro Reyes

Reyes (right) during his studio visits and critiques at GW University. Photos: Dean Kessmann

Pedro Reyes with a student during his studio visits and critiques at GW University. Photos: Dean Kessmann

Pedro Reyes, "Sanatorium," dOCUMENTA(13), 2012, Kassel, Germany, Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Pedro Reyes, “Sanatorium,” dOCUMENTA(13), 2012, Kassel, Germany, Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Pedro Reyes, an artist based in Mexico City and one who has participated in our Conversations with Artists series, is an “artist to watch” according to the Huffington Post. During his talk at the Center last November he spoke about recent and ongoing projects—in particular Sanatorium, which exhibited at dOCUMENTA(13) last summer, and everyone’s favorite socialist puppet show, Baby Marx. During his stay in D.C. he also conducted a few studio visits with graduate students of Fine Arts at the George Washington University.

Megan Clark, Manager of Center Initiatives

 

 

 

Reyes (right)  and student during his studio visits and critiques at GW University. Photos: Dean Kessmann

And the winner is . . .

Last night, a curious audience sat down in our auditorium to screen ten videos–the jury-selected finalists of the Snapshot Home Movie Contest. Afterwards, one by one, audience members dropped a red ticket into one of ten boxes, each marked with the name of a finalist.The video with the most red tickets would win the “crowd favorite” title along with a slate of great prizes, including exposure during the DC Shorts Film Festival.

Meet the winner, Marie McGrory, a student at The George Washington University. Watch her video below, which she created during her recent spring break. Marie filmed virtually everything that happened at her family’s New York home that week, and edited her footage down to a final story that focuses on the importance of food in her family and their St. Patrick’s Day traditions. As jury-member and Washington Post Style Blog writer Maura Judkis observes, Marie’s delightful parents make incredibly compelling characters.

The McGrory Clan from Marie McGrory on Vimeo.