A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Gym Class

Pablo Helguera (BFA 1993) is the director of adult and academic programs of the Department of Education at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and an artist who uses the tools of education to create socially engaged art. His piece, the Addams-Dewey Gymnasium, is featured in A Proximity of Consciousness, which runs September 20 through December 20 in the Sullivan Galleries.

Helguera’s time as a student at SAIC helped him develop an art practice with two parallel paths. His exposure to the Art Institute of Chicago and his internship in the museum created a relationship between making and exhibiting art that “became defining in my life,” he says.

The Addams-Dewey Gymnasium invites visitors to engage in turn-of-the-century exercises designed to promote health and foster a connection between the mind and the body. In the piece, Helguera transports the educational philosophies of activist Jane Addams and educational reformer John Dewey into a contemporary art exhibition, inviting participants to reflect on the impact of two of the most influential thinkers on education.

“When one is making art today in a kind of a socially engaged practice, many of the concerns and issues and challenges one faces—those are the things that are discussed by the thinkers of the Progressive Era,” says Helguera.

Helguera hopes the exhibition will enable visitors to consider the larger messages of social practice artists and think about how people can change the world for the better. He adds that he would like visitors to his gymnasium to “let any inhibitions go away and let themselves be carried away by the experience.”