By Vicky Gu ’20
On November 14, Pingry’s advanced Upper School visual arts students took their annual field trip to the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. There, they visited many diverse art galleries, each displaying various media, such as paints, prints, sculptures, films, photographs, and other installation-type pieces. Because the art shown in the galleries is constantly changing, the students have a chance to become inspired by and learn from the trip each year even if they are visiting the same locations.
Students were split up into rough groups based on the art class they are enrolled in, so as not to overcrowd any one particular gallery at a time. Though they visited many of the same galleries, some groups viewed galleries tailored to their classes that others did not. For example, a group of junior and senior photographers visited the David Zwirner Gallery, which showed small, figurative paintings by Lisa Yuskavage. Other places students visited included the Albertz Benda, James Cohan, Agora, Asya Geisberg, and Mary Boone galleries.
Reactions to the artists’ works varied from admiration to surprise, from confusion to quiet contemplation. When visiting the Gagosian Gallery, the students examined the very messily linear works of Mark Grotjahn. “It looked like swathes of toothpaste were put on it. Tubes of white toothpaste with green and red stripes in it,” said Victoria Gu (V). Another classmate noticed that one of the swatches had fallen off, leaving behind a pale, white imprint. Many quickly dismissed it as another incomprehensible example of contemporary art and gathered in the gallery’s atrium to be led to the next one. Ms. Rebecca Sullivan, who teaches both the drawing and painting and film classes, then revealed some confusing and controversial news: each one of the 75 by 60-inch paintings was worth at least $5 million dollars. The larger ones were worth closer to $10 million. In awe, the group filed back into the gallery to reexamine the paintings, wondering how they could be worth more than several houses.
One of the last galleries the groups visited was the HG Contemporary Gallery, featuring artist Susan J. Barron. Her exhibition, titled “Depicting the Invisible,” is a series of portraits of veterans suffering from PTSD surrounded by quotes about their wishes and laments. All observers were silent as they read her pieces. Many students cited that exhibition in their subsequent reflections as one of the most moving and eye-opening things they saw on the trip.
The student artists visited nearly a dozen galleries before boarding the bus for lunch. Rather than bagged lunches, students enjoyed exploring the diverse options of Chelsea Market. The previous year, the field trip had brought the students to lunch in Little Italy, and most students agreed that while Chelsea Market had fewer formal dining options, the change was welcomed because it was much less crowded.
Overall, even though the trip featured some of the same places as last year, the artists and works within the galleries had changed and the students were able to learn new things from the experience. They also got to witness the artists’ new inspirations and further survey the present-day artistic landscape.