In Art Shake Talks, we are happy to share with you our conversation with Anna Kegeles, art expert in a new project The Travel Shake with Irena Ponaroshku in New York. Maria Shpakova, The Travel Shake Co-Founder, met Anna to talk about the cultural differences between the Russians and the Americans, the art exciting the strongest emotions, love to New York, out-of-the-box approaches and inspiration.
Anna gives lectures on art at City & Country School in New York and organizes guided tours for art museums. In her past, she used to work as an art director at such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, Forbes Style, Robb Report и Art & Antiques.
Maria: Anna, your art program for #thetravelshake_newyork project with Irena Ponaroshku was beyond the ordinary. Our participants were running on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum searching for the weird art, diving into shocking video art, sharing their views on art objects at The Solomon. R. Guggenheim museum, while Irena herself guided a tour at MoMA. Tell us more about your approach, please: how is it called and who invented it?
Anna: This is the Socratic method, named after the famous philosopher. Obviously, it was not intended for conducting art walks at the museums. Initially an academic approach, it sparks a discussion with no one right answer. The knowledge about the subject is obtained while communicating and examining all the details.
Speaking about art tours at the museums, it is reflected in careful study of paintings and their nuances as well as group communication. The understanding of art comes in real-time mode, while the guide moderates such discussions, sharing the knowledge with the participants.
M: How common is this method at the museums in the USA?
A: It is hard to tell: I live in New York, and this is not the same as the States! (laughs). In NY, the demand is so high that you can get basically everything you want. So, you can tailor an art tour to your personal preferences. There are guides who prefer academic approach, giving lots of info and stopping at every painting, but there are also many specialists who follow more advanced methods, including the Socratic method.
M: Could you please name a painting that usually arouses most vivid emotions – as well as controversy – among the members of your art walks?
A: It depends, as the art walks content changes depending on the group. It often so happens that the same art object causes ambivalent feelings inside people’s minds with different backgrounds. Still, there are some themes that normally spark public outcry.
To illustrate, I had an experience of conducting a themed excursion «Women and sex». There is one artwork in The Whitney Museum of American art – Touch by Joan Semmel. Joan was one of the first feminists in the USA. Her creation was deliberately made in such a way that a spectator could see the scene with her eyes – the eyes of a naked woman lying in a bed with a man. This is the picture that always causes lots of discussions.
M: You conduct excursions both for the Russians and Americans. Do you notice a cultural difference between these nations in terms of interacting with contemporary art? Is it true that our fellow citizens are less open to such experiments?
A: Yes, I do. And I especially love to organize tours for the Russians. Contemporary art is novel to them, and there are still so many barriers towards its understanding. Many people come to me and say: «How can it be exhibited at the museum? This is nonsense!» Or «Contemporary art is so far from me, and I have no wish to learn about it». From the very beginning, there are lots of prejudices and visible negative attitude. The Americans are more open-minded towards it.
The Russians often choose classic art, avoiding the contemporary one. To tell the truth, I sometimes convince them a bit and see how people get involved and start looking at it differently, start understanding the meanings of contemporary art, getting sort of a key that opens this door for them.
M: Which NY museums are a must for an exciting art-walk with a rich agenda?
A: It depends on the exhibition, group members and current mood rather than on the exact art destination. There are many cool temporary exhibitions that can leave no one indifferent and spark very interesting discussions. For example, most exhibitions at The Guggenheim museum are temporary.
M: Anna, since you are an artist yourself, tell us a bit more about your creative approach and your personal inspiration.
A: I get inspired by New York. By the conversations about art. I love leading excursions – this way I feel the power of art. It is amazing that even an ordinary picture can touch our emotional side. Sometimes it just happens like that: there is a unicoloured canvas hanging on the wall. Nothing special at first sight, isn’t it? But people feel the impact of this artwork.
I am as well inspired by the fact that I can trigger emotions with my creations. I want to experiment in order to understand how my artworks can influence the spectator. Any type of art – it provokes something inside and gives yet another motivation to stay in a constant creative search.
M: Which famous artists would you call your mentors?
A: There are no exact names, as they were changing throughout my life. Sometimes it is connected with the exhibitions that I visited and got inspired by. A couple of years ago there was an exhibition of Agnes Martin at The Guggenheim Museum. These were indeed strong and powerful works that definitely had an impact on me: her vision, her point of view and her own world she created.
This is actually what matters a lot for me when it comes to art – an ability to build your own world. We all live in the already existing world, while art gives us a chance to invent a new planet, live there and let the spectator in. And I believe that strong independent art is all about it. Looking at such works, a person feels as if stepping on another planet, following the rules set by the artist, discovering everything from a different angle.
M: Let’s talk about New York. At The Travel Shake, we consider this city an international contemporary art hub. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. New York takes center stage when it comes to contemporary art.
M: How does a creative person feel living here? Which opportunities for personal growth opened up for you after you decided to move?
A: I think that the way the location influences the artist is grossly exaggerated. You can find creativity in your inner world, no matter where you are based. It is true that opinions are divided in this regard. Some mentors tell us: “Don’t focus on what is going on around you, don’t fill your mind with external elements – be the creator yourself. Do it the way you feel, imagine your own world unlike any other». It is an ambiguous question because everything depends on your personality. Someone feels at ease in the countryside, alone in the woods surrounded by wild nature – and he finds his inspiration there. Other people need to be in the heart of a bustling city, hectic and vibrant, soaking this ambient and visiting the museums, accumulating it into their own creations.
Personally, I find New York an incredible source of power and energy. Moving here was a big step forward, opening so many doors in front of me. The best museums in the world, excursions that I conduct and drawing classes that I give to the children – each of these activities daily contributes to my personal growth.
M: Last but not least, we can’t help asking you for recommendations as an experienced art guide. Which museums in NY are indeed worth attention and why?
A: I am really happy with the art program designed for the The Travel Shake project with Irena Ponaroshku. We visited the key highlights I myself love a lot. If we had a couple more days at our disposal, I would suggest adding some museums located close to New York. It is a completely different world, with its unique spirit and ambient.
In close proximity to New York, there are two big museums, both truly enriching. The first one is Dia:Beacon, a huge building where you can find lots of unusual and massive contemporary art objects.
The second one is Storm King Art Center – an open-air park full of various sculptures and installations. Going for a walk there feels wonderful: picturesque views and art objects perfectly match the landscape around you. This harmony of nature and art is breathtaking.
Besides, I would certainly recommend popping over little galleries in Chelsea neighbourhood. In some of them, you’d probably stop just for a minute, while you’d examine each art piece carefully in the others. It is like a whole new world. During this art-walk, you can move freely in search of something close to your heart. Charming, isn’t it?