Thinking Outside the Crayon Box at the Friday Nights Art Table

Guest blogger Danica Gomes is an intern in the Public Programs Department.

The art table has become a fixture of Friday Nights at the de Young. Every Friday kids, adults, regulars, and newcomers all crowd around paper-covered tables to take part in the evening’s hands-on art project. The projects are created and led by one of three museum artists, Suzanne Couture, Christian Davies, or Lisa Hubbard, and are always reflective of and inspired by special exhibitions. This summer, drawing on Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris, the art table has adapted Picasso’s definitive modes of expression and represented themes into activities designed for the general public.

Picasso constantly worked to deconstruct and reconstruct images, shedding the traditions of the past in favor of new, radical ways to conceive art. In his bronze Head of a Woman, 1931, we see this image deconstruction and reconstruction rendered in three dimensions, as oblongs and spheres reassembled to represent the basic forms of the face. Using this artistic shorthand, Picasso fused abstraction and representation to create a new artistic language.

Visitors studying an earlier sculpture with the same title, Pablo Picasso's Head of a Woman (1909) in the exhibition Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris at the de Young Museum through October 10, 2011. Photo: Jennifer Hsu/Fine Arts Museums of SF

Like Picasso’s career, the art table is based on experimentation and is designed to encourage people to experiment with art. Last month, visitors to the art table were invited to explore the theme of deconstruction and reconstruction in a project that enabled museumgoers to make their own cubist sculptures.

Kids and adults were given foam pieces cut into squares and ovals as their jumping-off points; these were then cut, built out, added to, and subtracted from to assemble cubist creations. A semicircle became a down-turned mouth; a squiggly-edged piece of foam turned into a man’s hair. The shiny black foam recalled Picasso’s bronze sculptures, underscoring the connection between the downstairs galleries and the art table activities. As the night progressed, museum visitors were transformed into artists, and their cubist trophies could be seen throughout Wilsey Court.

What is so striking about the art table is how open and unlimited it is. When asked about creating projects for the art table, museum artist Christian Davies said, “I try to come up with projects that are open-ended, so that all ages can sit down and do them, [giving] people a chance to experiment with materials.”

The art table encourages new ways to think about making art. It is a unique opportunity to learn about and explore art in a hands-on way. It can be said that the art table encapsulates the broader goal of Friday Nights at the de Young, providing visitors to the museum with an engaging experience and turning what is on the walls of the museum into something to do, hear, and feel. As Christian summed up, the goal of the art table is “to have fun, because art making should be fun, especially on a Friday night.”