Ricci Albenda is a New York artist known for installations that emphasize an other-dimensional architectural sensibility, often combined with a minimalist concrete poetry. He's represented by Andrew Kreps Gallery in Manhattan's West Chelsea art district. His unusual work gets a wider audience this November at the Museum of Modern Art, where he will be exhibiting as part of MoMA's "Projects" series.
In the meantime, Albenda's fans can visit P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side, where the artist helped design and paint a large-scale mural in the playground in collaboration with a group of artistically inclined fifth grade students. The mural was completed in June and will remain indefinitely on view at 82nd Street between Madison and Park Avenue.
The project was launched by Doreen Remen, a P.S. 6 parent and director of the Art Production Fund, a nonprofit organization founded by curator and art promoter Yvonne Force. Albenda, 35, signed on to teach the fundamentals of color theory and art production to 15 students, a group dubbed "The Talent Club" by their art teacher, Emily Schwartz. Once the basics had been mastered, Albenda said, the team began to consider how to design the mural. Apparently, all hell broke loose.
"We had a lot of yelling going on," explained Ms. Schwartz.
"They had propaganda in mind" said Albenda. "They wanted to say 'P.S. 6 is the greatest!' But I thought the mural should capture and expand the essence of what P.S. 6 was, and not explain it or be a symbol for it." Albenda persuaded the students to forgo images of soccer balls and pencils and embrace abstract composition.
On the sweltering June afternoon when the group began painting the mural, a Talent Club member, Paul Pissarro, who is also the great-great-grandson of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, eyed the work in progress. As his classmates scampered across the asphalt, Paul brushed back his shaggy shoulder-length brown hair, which he wears with frosted highlights, à la Eminem. "You don't see Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol or the Impressionists just drawing an object," Pissarro explained. "We started by photographing the blank wall, and the lines created by shadows guided the design."
This 11-year-old mini-David Cassidy is extremely articulate. Look out Sister Wendy.
Next, the students, hoisted up on scaffolding ten feet in the air, filled in the outlines with explosive hues: mustard, aqua, bright pinks and purple, pale green and charcoal gray. The colors overlap and tilt and stretch, yet, it is a spare and modern creation. From a distance, the bottom third appears to be a solid dark gray field. Closer up, a band of graffito emerges. The students have scribbled on the surface their favorite words, such as "ice," "fleece," "cabbage," "aplomb," "floppy" and "oink."
The chic palette, worthy of a Pucci print, breaks up the continuity of P.S. 6's red brick skin and the visual conformity of the tree-lined street of ordered townhouses. The only other oddity on the block is the forest green awning announcing the presence of the Scientology Celebrity Center -- not unlike something one might see in a future Whitney Biennial installation.
This fall, as the Talent Club members move on to middle school and Albenda follows his art-world trajectory (besides MoMA, there are shows in Ghent, Belgium, and at the Barbican Centre in London), the very public results of their heated art collaboration lives on. It can be found just around the corner from the Metropolitan Museum, a feet few beyond a ragtag basketball hoop.
LINDSAY POLLOCK is a freelance writer based in New York City.