Lessons in Learning: Art and Education from the Artists’ Book Collection


The centerpiece of this collection-based exhibition is the video Singing Lesson II (2003) by Polish artist Artur Zmijewski. Zmijewski’s work often draws from socially marginalized groups or individuals who are disregarded due to their physical or mental disabilities. Singing Lesson II is filmed inside the Church of St Thomas in Leipzig, Germany, and features a Baroque chamber orchestra, conductor, soprano, and choir of girls and boys who are deaf and challenged to perform something that is considered impossible because of their disability.

Through the performance’s rehearsals, Zmijewski presents the inherent difficulties associated with the students’ desire to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata All that God gives is always good. Because the students sing using sign language, the viewer confronts his or her own inability to understand this form of communication, yet the film shows the universal ability to understand the real joy that music brings to all human beings. The lessons are deeply emotional and the contrast between the musical dissonance of the choir and the lyrical, harmonic order produced by the professional musicians is deeply moving. Zmijewski depicts the beauty of making, performing, and teaching music, especially with the students who are deaf, to produce music in its most honest form.

The video is accompanied by works from the MCA Collection by artists such as Tony Fitzpatrick, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Frances Whitehead, and Charles Gaines, which explore related themes of language: sign language, DNA (the language of life), the alphabet, and the language of the senses. Other works from the MCA’s artists’ books collection include artists Joseph Albers, Mel Bochner, Dick Higgins, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Joseph Kosuth, Bruce Nauman, Adrian Piper, and Dieter Roth, drawing further upon ideas of education. These artists’ works explore how one learns and how one teaches, reflecting and extending the film’s examination of struggle and the possibility of failure.

This exhibition is curated by Tricia Van Eck, MCA Curatorial Coordinator and Curator of Artists’ Books, in collaboration with Sheetal Prajapati, Manager of Family and Youth Programs, and James Hodges, Coordinator of School Programs.


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