Take your children to see “Painting Air: Spencer Finch,” the new exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design. In this two-part show, the Museum debuts a large-scale installation by Finch, shown with more than 60 pieces–from ancient objects to late-20th-century art– selected by the artist from the Museum’s collection. The show opened
Friday, February 24 and runs through July 29, 2012.

Spencer Finch, Bee Purple, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.

Kids will enjoy exploring his joyful colorful mixed-media work along with discovering what and pondering why Finch pulled what he did out of museum storage. The exhibition invites conversation. What are the different materials used to make the art? (E.g. Paint, glass, ice machine, pool of water.) What is the science and mechanics behind the art? (What happens when the ice melts?) How does light and space affect the art? (Are the hanging glass squares clear or colored?) Note: Because the large installations are fragile, you will need to hold your child’s hand while walking around the Finch exhibit. Bonus: This will give you more opportunity to discuss the art with your kids.

“The Museum’s invitation to Finch to create an exhibition highlighting works in our collection has its roots in Andy Warhol’s Raid the Icebox 1, the seminal project mounted at the RISD Museum of Art in 1970. It’s exciting to see how Finch’s approach to the Museum’s collection contrasts with Warhol’s,” says Museum Director John W. Smith.

Spencer Finch, Study for Painting Air, 2011. Photo credit: Anisa Raoof

The work of Impressionist painter Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926) serves as the aesthetic touchstone for both parts of the exhibition, and even informed its title. Painting Air comes from a statement Monet made in 1895: “I want to paint the air… and that is nothing short of impossible.” Finch’s new installation, Painting Air (2012), created for the exhibition, seeks to capture the movement and reflection the artist observed in a recent visit to Monet’s water garden in Giverny. For both Finch (RISD MFA ’89) and Monet, the pond at Giverny served as a laboratory in which they merge the experience of nature with the art-making process. Finch evokes his experience by suspending 100 transparent and highly reflective glass panels in the middle of an expansive, 150-linear-foot mural comprised of 35 colors. Light and color shift across the surfaces of the gently swaying panels, reflecting the painting and the movements of visitors, and transforming viewers’ perspectives from one moment to the next.

“As abstract and ephemeral as some of Finch’s projects appear to be, they are based in fact and scientific phenomena. He acutely observes natural occurrences, which he then filters through memory as well as literary, artistic, and scientific accounts. The results are often poetic, as he tries to make visible what cannot easily be seen,” says Judith Tannenbaum, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art.

Spencer Finch, 8456 Shades of Blue (After Hume) (detail), 2008. Courtesy of the artist.

Questions to ask your children: Which object(s) do you like? How does the art make you feel? What does the art make you think about? Does the art remind of you anything?

I adored Finch’s large Painting Air installation – suspended transparent, highly reflective glass panels in the middle of an expansive, mural comprised of 35 colors. The clear glass squares slowly moving and capturing the blocks of colors painted on the nearby walls. This piece reminds me of my childhood, building with a friend’s translucent-colored slotted plexi building blocks in their sunlit family room. My connection to the piece was both a pleasant childhood memory and a present day conscious feeling of calm elation and visual trickery watching the colors move in space. Our connections to art is varied and individual. All the more reason to share many forms of art with our children, ask questions and share opinions about what we see and provide opportunities to experiment with different materials to create our own art.

Beyond the exhibit with children:

  • Select 5-10  objects at home to put on display in your own museum. Why did you pick them and what story do they tell?
  • Look at art by other artists in the show including Andy Warhol and Claude Monet.
  • Make art at home. Optional art supplies: watercolor paints + paper / colored construction paper + string / colored tissue paper + scissors.

 Visiting the Museum:

The RISD Museum of Art
Entrances at 224 Benefit Street and 20 North Main Street in Providence, RI
Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 am-5 pm, and 10 am-9 pm every Thursday.
Cost: Free admission 5-9 pm on third Thursdays and all day the last Saturday of each month; pay-what-you-wish every Sunday, 10 am-1 pm.
Admission is $10 adults; $7 seniors (age 62+); $3 college students with valid ID and youths (ages 5-18); and free for Museum members, RISD and Brown University students and staff, and children under 5.
For more information, call 401 454- 6500 or visit risdmuseum.org.

Spencer Finch, The Garden of Eden (All Colors in my Paintbox), 2011. Courtesy of the artist.