A visual artist in contemporary abstraction, Dr Robin Kingston is also a renowned study tour leader and New York know-it-all.
Each year in late November, Kingston heads off to the Big Apple – with about 25 students, other academics and staff – for the tour.
It includes a huge amount of art in galleries - large and small, visits to artists’ studios, a day trip to Dia Beacon in Upstate New York, outings to iconic eating establishments, art installations, artists’ talks, art critics, and much, much more.
Initially the tour had an art history focus, but has evolved to become a study tour that encompasses as many aspects of art in New York as possible.
Art really matters in New York, like sport does in Melbourne … it permeates many aspects of New York life.
“And during the study tour, New York becomes the students’ campus and their classroom," Kingston said.
How long did you live in New York?
I lived in New York for 10 years from 1980 to 1990. Originally I came to NYC with my now husband, who is a sculptor, and we both studied at New York Studio School initially for a year. Once we were in New York, we decided living here for one year would not be enough, so we ended up extending our visas and stayed for over 10 years.
I continued to work on my own contemporary abstract visual art in New York, as well as taking time to check out galleries and art happenings, and meet artists and contacts through my own work and our studies and work. We lived in Brooklyn in the 1980s when it wasn’t cool to live in Brooklyn and there were lots of artists’ studios there. Today, there are still many artists based in Brooklyn and it has become trendy as an alternative living place to Manhattan.
What does being a bona fide New Yorker bring to the Art Study Tour?
My 10 years as a New Yorker has brought invaluable experience, knowledge, contacts and know-how to the School of Art Study Tour, hopefully making it a richer and a more transformative experience for students and staff.
I also customise and personalise the tour for everyone who takes part, researching extra shows, exhibitions, ideas and contacts for their interests and individual needs, which students really appreciate.
The breadth and depth of the NY Art Study Tour is astonishing, why is this important for participants?
It’s important for participants to truly understand the big picture of art in New York, what goes on and how it all works. Students from the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) and the Master of Arts (Art Management) take part in the study tour.
It’s not just about seeing amazing blockbuster exhibitions at well-known world class galleries – such as The Met, The Whitney and The Guggenheim – it’s also about meeting real artists living and working in New York.
On the tour last year, we met three contemporary artists who live and work in New York – Susanna Heller and Nancy Brooks Brody who are both based in Brooklyn, and Melissa McGill who lives and works in Beacon in Upstate New York.
All three artists had totally different styles of art and diverse ways of talking about art and working. Heller works on many artworks at once and is an active left wing feminist; Brooks Brody’s work is quite minimalist and involves approaching each work in a very logical, even mathematical way; and McGill, whose latest public artwork involves a large scale installation on an abandoned island in the Hudson River 50 miles north of New York.
What other parts of the tour are thought-provoking for participants?
The visit to the Judd Foundation is eye-opening for students. It’s considered to be where artist Donald Judd first developed the concept of permanent installation, which is now a hallmark of contemporary art.
His installations of artworks, furniture and museum-quality decorative objects at his former studio and home in Soho, strike a balance between respect for the historic nature of the landmark cast-iron building and his innovative approaches to architecture and design – with the works on view remaining as installed by Judd.
We also meet Judd Tully – an art specialist, critic and journalist based in Soho. He talks to the students about the whole New York art scene, how the galleries work, the pecking order, and the ins and outs of art in New York.
He has a very different take from other people and artists that we hear from on the tour – about how to get noticed, how to succeed, the cost of art, and of making it. Some people find his point of view refreshing, others might find him cynical, either way he has an interesting and realistic take on what goes on.
How does your own art practice and research feed in to the tour?
My recent work investigates possibilities in contemporary abstract painting using traditional means as well as an investigation of painting and site.
I am interested in extending the understanding of the complexity of the material processes and thought that contributes to content in the construction of abstract painting, including how context and placement can affect meaning.
I teach a variety of studio-based courses in Painting at RMIT, including a course I have developed on Abstraction.
My own art practice brings a particular way of thinking to the art and artists we see and experience on the study tour. I like to look at things intuitively and using rational thought processes, so hopefully this is reflected in the tour’s schedule that builds over two weeks to the final day when we travel by train to Dia Beacon.
The visit to Dia Beacon features incredibly diverse and huge artworks in an amazing daylight gallery in Beacon, Upstate New York. It brings everything we do and all the art we see on the tour together and students consistently tell me it is a definitely one of the highlights.
You’ve taken 14 groups of art students on the annual New York Art Study Tour so far. What type of students and people go on the tour?
All different types of art students come on the tour – from printmakers to sculptors, painters, sound artists, video, installation, photography, commercial photography, gold and silver smithing, and arts management.
I’ve also taken art students who were very interested in music on the tour, art students from other universities, a philosophy student, an artist from New South Wales who found out about the tour, RMIT Master of Fine Art students from New Zealand, and RMIT Hong Kong art students as well.
After all these years of running the study tour, what do you get out of it?
I love reliving the intensity and depth of the collections we see, and the excitement of students discovering all the wonderful art and life that New York has on offer.
New York is a remarkable city with fabulous stuff happening on every street corner. It is a city that definitely still delivers and there is something wonderful about introducing all this to art students for the first time, as well as to those who have visited NY before. I still find it really exciting.
I also enjoy helping and teaching people to be more present, notice, just sit and let the art wash over you; let yourself be led, drift and learn to enjoy the art in a quiet and enriching way.
What is a highlight of running the tour for you?
It’s a real highlight for me when a student who has been on the tour texts or emails me, to tell me about how they found themselves in front of a particular painting or artwork and were even moved to tears by it, and how much the tour and the art we saw meant to them.
Years after running a particular study tour, I will bump into a student on the street in Melbourne and they will immediately start talking about the New York tour and how it changed their art practice, or how much it meant to them and that they still think about it years after … and for me that’s truly amazing and inspirational to hear.
Story: Deborah Sippitts