LAUNCHPROJECTS - I returned last night from New York. I had mapped out everything I wanted to see - Lynda Benglis & George Condo at the New Museum, Tara Donovan and Donald Judd at Pace, Yayoi Kusama at Robert Miller Gallery, Kate Shepherd at Galerie LeLong, Anish Kapoor at Barbara Gladstone, and on and on. I will go on to my thoughts and impressions on some of these shows in a later blog, but I stumbled without itinerary into Lehmann Maupin and was captivated by an exhibition of works by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival).
Tim Rollins and K.O.S. began working together in the early 1980's when Rollins created a strategy for his students from Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx that combined lessons in reading and writing with making art. Rollins told his students on that first day, "Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history."
As described on the ICA Philadelphia website:
"In a process they call "jammin," Rollins or one of the students reads aloud from the selected text while the other members draw and relate the stories to their own experiences. These drawings are then cut and pasted or enlarged and recreated on the grid.
The collaboration between Rollins and his students soon outgrew the classroom. Frustrated with the strictures of the public school system, Rollins opened the Art and Knowledge Workshop, an after-school program in an abandoned school building five blocks from IS52. After teaching all day at IS52, Rollins would meet K.O.S. members at the workshop; homework would be done and art would be made. In 1987, Rollins and K.O.S. began using a traveling workshop format to spread the ideas and inspiration behind their project beyond the South Bronx. In 1994, Rollins and K.O.S. moved their operation to a studio in Chelsea. There Rollins and some long-term K.O.S. members rebuilt and expanded the project nationally and internationally, significantly increasing the number of workshops conducted with other schools and arts institutions.
Today there are active K.O.S. members in Philadelphia, Memphis, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. Rollins and K.O.S.'s decision to exhibit the art that they had created in their classroom in professional galleries marked an important turning point in their history; it signaled the moment they began to distinguish themselves from other teacher-student collaborations and demanded that their work be engaged first as fine art."
The images at Lehmann Maupin are wholly compelling, even without the back story. The majority of the exhibition consisted of elegant large-scale figurative paintings in indigos, blacks, and reds rendered in a Raymon-Pettibon-meets-Kara-Walker stroke atop white-washed pages from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. On a far wall hung quieter paintings made from sheets from the original operatic score of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny wrapped nets of butcher's twine and gold paint.
In an interview for Deutsche Bank Artmag, K.O.S. is described as "filling the gap between performance art, installation, graffiti, and Neo-Expressionism," and Rollins as "attracted to the idea of an intellectual revolution and learning. After twenty-six years, Tim Rollins is still riding that line between art, education, and a rescue operation." The exhibition continues the artists’ endeavor to challenge standard notions of art through education, collaboration, and deep engagement with literary and historical texts. The show stands alone in Chelsea in my mind for its content and intention. Again, in the words of Tim Rollins, "today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history."