• MoMA PS1 / Meet the Artists of Teen Art Salon

Meet the Artists of Teen Art Salon

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Ryan Muir

The artists of Teen Art Salon have been working alongside one another for years. Late nights fueled by bodega snacks and charcoal fumes bonded them to the Long Island City organization. On the occasion of their exhibition at MoMA PS1, the artists reunited to talk about how their work has evolved, what people get wrong about teens, and why sour straws are essential in the creation of a masterpiece. Listen to the first in a series of conversations between Teen Art Salon founder Isabella Bustamante, and Assistant Curator Elena Ketelsen González, along with artists Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo, Luis Cuesta, Jolene Fernandez, Maya Greenberg, Daphne Knouse, Aneesa Razak, and Quinn Wilke.

Teen Art Salon Audio Guide: Meet the Artists

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Elena Ketelsen González: So, I’d love to hear about your first experiences with Teen Art Salon.

Quinn Wilke: In the early days, it was kind of through word of mouth that people would find out about this studio.

Luis Cuesta: My mentor at the time recommended me, Isabella and Teen Art Salon.

Jolene Fernandez: I owe my participation in Teen Art Salon to Luna because she forced me. She was like, “Jo, there’s this thing called Teen Art Salon and it’s free. It’s just a few stops away. We should go. Let’s go.” And I was like, “Man, a social art thing? I don’t go and make art to socialize. I do art solo. I got to think.” And she was like, “Come on, just come.”

I went and it was awesome. It was really a community of kids who were coming from all over the city, all different boroughs, and were sharing this single belief that art was going to help them grow and it’s going to challenge them because we all loved art. That’s why we were all there. We all believed in art.

Elena Ketelsen González: I am Elena Ketelsen González. I’m an assistant curator here at MoMA PS1.

Isabella Bustamante: Hey everybody. This is Isabella Bustamante. Born and raised in the great, maybe the greatest borough, Queens. I’m the founder and director of Teen Art Salon.

Elena Ketelsen González: You can hear the sounds of ongoing gentrification in the background.

Isabella Bustamante: We’re sitting down with the artists of Teen Art Salon: A Protospective on view at MoMA PS1 until April 8th, 2024.

Luis Cuesta: I just remember going and everyone was making big paintings. Everyone was making cool figurative work. And it was a bit intimidating and I was really shy.

Elena Ketelsen González: What were you making at the time?

Luis Cuesta: Well, I was usually just doodling in class.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: I just didn’t know how to draw. First year coming in, everyone knew how to draw already, so it was kind of scary for me.

Aneesa Razak: I came in extremely afraid of an environment where I was free to go to and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anybody really.

Luis Cuesta: I remember from the very first start queerness was definitely something. And that also relates to, I don’t want to make queer work and my mom, in my bedroom, my mom would see. So I just needed studio space.

Jolene Fernandez: That’s exactly what you need when you’re a teenager who needs just time away from home. I remember almost not being able to believe that it was actually a thing that was happening because it just seemed too good to be true. And also, when you’re looking so hard for legitimacy, I feel like Teen Art Salon was very much a place that told us, “You are legitimate in what you’re trying to do and this is a place to foster that.”

Quinn Wilke: There was this real level of respect that I felt like you had for us as these kids and really working us to take our work more seriously, I guess. And the feedback that you’ve given me even from eight years ago still sticks with me to this day.

Jolene Fernandez: It was like a marathon of creativity and the shared excitement for creating and imagining and just being there to support one another in our endeavors.

Daphne Knouse: I remember coming to Teen Art Salon from school and just feeling so insane and angsty and just pissed off and crazy, but also doe-eyed and enthusiastic about painting. And it was just like, I didn’t quite feel like I was just going to high school. I was just kind of a practicing artist. It was really a confidence boost to feel like you’re really going somewhere.

Jolene Fernandez: My experience at Teen Art Salon was really the foundation for me deciding to go into arts education as a career alongside being an artist, being a teaching artist.

Maya Greenberg: I feel there’s a lot of pride, like a collective pride. When I go to that room, I’m not like, “Oh my God, my stuff looks so good.” It’s like, “Oh, shit. Everything looks so good. We did it.” And it is such a… I don’t know. It feels very lucky.

Luis Cuesta: I remember at Teen Art Salon we were making our work for an imagined future of us as being practicing artists. That future is now, I would argue, or starting to be now at MoMA PS1. What are your thoughts about our works, that growth for us?

Isabella Bustamante: It’s super meaningful for me to see the trust that I have from all 10 artists participating to show up with very adult work and share those themes where they are in their life, both with school, with work, with family, how they see themselves with the same frank, inappropriate, silly, lovable honesty that also existed in that teenagehood space. I’ve always felt that the work adolescents were making needed to be documented and preserved and was contributing to our visual culture, especially within the fabric of New York City.

It’s funny, when Elena called me for the show I almost didn’t want to do it, or I was taken aback because I think, as a teacher or an educator, I had made peace with the fact that my greatest joy is behind the scenes in the space with the physical opportunity to make and be in dialogue with young people. Honestly, I’m incredibly proud. Folks went even further, I think, than I could have hoped for with what they’re investigating and mission accomplished.

Elena Ketelsen González: Teen Art Salon has been a long time collaborator now with PS1. Teen Art Salon is about a five-minute walk away from PS1. It’s just down the street and it’s really a Queens, Long Island City institution. It’s just really meaningful to have Teen Art Salon continue to be part of the fabric of this building and really moving away from this traditional education model. I don’t think that I, as the curator, actually have that much to teach Teen Art Salon. I’m learning so much from them and from the young people. To have this spirit of people who are 20 to 25, that’s a really necessary energy of PS1. They’re not only recipients of culture. They’re makers of culture and pretty soon we’re going to be living in their world.

Luis Cuesta: My name is Luis Cuesta. I’m an artist and I’m from Queens, New York.

Jolene Fernandez: I’m Jolene Fernandez. I grew up in Brooklyn.

Maya Greenberg: I’m Maya Greenberg.

Quinn Wilke: My name is Quinn Wilke.

Maya Greenberg: Within the show, I have a watercolor, a comic.

Daphne Knouse: My name is Daphne Knouse. I’m born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Aneesa Razak: My name is Aneesa Razak. I’m from the Bronx. If you’re looking around, my drawings are a little bit weird.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: My name is Isa. I was raised in Washington Heights.

Luis Cuesta: This one is nice.

Elena Ketelsen González: Oh, there’s a lot of good ones. That is so good.

Isabella Bustamante: It’s interesting because all these sketchbooks, it’s kind of like a grave site, sculptures that never made it.

Elena Ketelsen González: You should have said that, that’s so good.

Isabella Bustamante: No, I know.

Elena Ketelsen González: Oh, you have the chair one’s too.

Isabella Bustamante: Yeah, I think this is the one I’m going to-

Elena Ketelsen González: And you lost this? This person here goes and loses all of these gorgeous draw… these are vacant drawings.

Isabella Bustamante: Stop, I’m sorry. I didn’t know we’re going to have a MoMA PS1 show.

Elena Ketelsen González: And we… I always told you guys that-

We prepared, all the time.

Elena Ketelsen González: I always-

Isabella Bustamante: Yeah.

Elena Ketelsen González: I would tell them like-

Isabella Bustamante: I know.

Luis Cuesta: My name is Luis Cuesta. I’m an artist and I’m from Queens, New York.

Elena Ketelsen González: I am Elena Ketelsen González. I’m an assistant curator here at MoMA PS1 and I co-curated the Teen Art Salon exhibition with Isabella Bustamante, who is the founder of Teen Art Salon.

Luis Cuesta: Currently, on the show I have this piece titled, saving USA. They’re drawings that work with a sculptural language. They lean on these three frames and on the pages themselves, they’re entrusted with wash, sex vitamin cocktails and they’re covered in gingham fabric.

Elena Ketelsen González: Hi Luis. How are you?

Luis Cuesta: I’m good. How are you Elena?

Elena Ketelsen González: I’m good. Thank you for being here.

Luis Cuesta: Thank you for having me here.

Elena Ketelsen González: So, in the show we have a drawing of yours that’s like, little baby Jesus. For me, I see that and it reminds me of all the iconography in my house. My mom has an altar, my mom has like, baby Jesus, La Virgen everywhere. I’m curious where that iconography comes for you and why you were exploring it in this time.

Luis Cuesta: While at Teen Arts Salon, while in high school, I was very much interested in re-representing symbols, and that was really just like, I’m bringing my own personal cultural lexicons. Now I’m like, figuring out what do these things actually mean. Now I know I’m more intellectually mature, emotionally mature. I know how to make these things richer. All these things that I could just cover with a baby Jesus, for example, that no longer serves me anymore. Especially when it comes to my questions around gender. My questions about what is my relation to blackness, Dominican-ness.

Right now, where I’m trying to locate myself, is by finding all these discourses out in the world. Abstract expressionism, for example, minimalism and curing them all in a certain way where I create this framework for myself. So, I have nothing more, but just phenomenology. And to just leap into that void, a fruitful void.

Elena Ketelsen González: It makes me definitely think of Jose Esteban Munoz and these ideas of queer utopias. In Cruising the Horizon, he says, “we need to look past the limited vista of the here and now”. I think that’s kind of the void that you’re looking at. It’s like, the here and now gives us so much, but that fruitful void is what’s beyond.

Teen Arts Salon shares a really similar history with PS1 in terms of being an alternative space. PS one started in the 1970s in what was a disused school building, and Teen Art Salon has been operating since its inception in a yoga studio.

Luis Cuesta: This place itself marks this time where artists were really just trying to make their own systems. So, there’s like a transmutation being in between these barriers that I think, MoMA PS1 has really made itself from. It’s nice to be in that energy with my work and my studio practice, which is also trying to figure out how to do just that.

Yesterday morning I found out that this femme queen performer, Lola Ebony passed away. I don’t know how yet, and it’s not really that important, but she was young. Lola Ebony has been a person who has radicalized my queer politics and has given me through her performance, through her way of being, sort of a blueprint of how to be in the world, especially within these oppressive forces. I just hope that she’s being given her flowers and I feel it’s important to me to just state that here with, because it’s MOMA PS one and I carry her with me.

Elena Ketelsen González: Thank you so much, Luis.

Luis Cuesta: Thank you.

Quinn Wilke: My name is Quinn Wilke.

Maya Greenberg: I’m Maya Greenberg.

Quinn Wilke: We go way back. We go way back.

Isabella Bustamante: So let’s start at the very beginning, Maya. Why don’t you tell them how you created Problem Areas?

Maya Greenberg: I think I was a sophomore in high school and I had really bad acne, and I still suffer from acne, but it was a huge part of the way that I saw myself. I had known how to embroider and I thought it would be funny to do a portraiture piece embroidered with the humor of the popping a zit motion.

Quinn Wilke: Did you come in with that one and then make the other?

Maya Greenberg: Yeah. I came in with Problem Areas, and then the genius, Isabella, was like, “You should do a series,” and so I did.

Hey, Quinn. What’s the earliest work that you have in the show now?

Quinn Wilke: I think the first piece I have that I did in Teen Art Salon in the show is the multi-figurative piece with the bull coming through the window. No. Is it the red one? Oh, never mind. It is the red one.

So it’s funny, my newer work, there are a lot of themes that I’ve kept, or imagery that I’ve kept, in the past couple of years. Adornment of the body, ridiculous hair, bracelets, candy necklaces, plastic, acrylic nails. This kind of artificial covering that has references from early MySpace emo scene queen moments to references of early Renaissance ideas.

Maya Greenberg: It’s like if Michelangelo partied with sluts.

Quinn Wilke: Period. So can you tell me some of your thoughts about your recent work?

Maya Greenberg: I’ve kind of gone back to the way that I did art when I was a kid, where it is just kind of a coping thing. I feel sad or, “Oh, I feel like stressed about how these situations are going, or how these conversations went. I’m just going to draw about it.” I just started doing these drawings on tracing paper and then drawing on both sides of them. So it’s like one side is a shadow of the other.

Quinn Wilke: That’s awesome.

Maya Greenberg: I’m in an exploratory period.

Quinn Wilke: Yeah. A transitional period.

Maya Greenberg: A transitional… Yes.

Quinn Wilke: Yeah.

Isabella Bustamante: What does it feel like to be the foundation of a movement? Because you guys influenced also how I taught. You were the prototype…

Quinn Wilke: The guinea pigs.

Isabella Bustamante: … of seeing what was possible. And you also had the most pressure.

Maya Greenberg: We were scrutinized since we were literally 12. We had to have a portfolio to get into LaGuardia.

Quinn Wilke I think it was one of the first times, for me too being, brought outside of an academic way of doing art at Teen Art Salon. It was more like there was this conversation happening.

Maya Greenberg: It didn’t feel like dance mom pressure. It never went there. It felt out of respect. It was a lot of trust.

Quinn Wilke: On top of that, everyone that knew each other through, especially the early days, still are in touch and we still follow each other’s work and where their careers are. And just being able to be like, “Oh, yeah. I know them from Teen Art Salon.” That part of our lives will be connected.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: My name is Isa and I was raised in Washington Heights, New York City, but I’m from Mexico. I made one on each side. One of them is green and the other one is multicolored.

Aneesa Razak: My name is Aneesa Razak. I’m from the Bronx.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: You’re from the Bronx? Why am I …

Isabella Bustamante: Wait. You didn’t know she was from the Bronx?

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: I didn’t know she was from the Bronx.

Isabella Bustamante: Aneesa is the most Bronx person.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: Why am I just finding this out? This is kind of crazy. Okay, sorry.

Aneesa Razak: If you see the donkey and the peeled banana and some butt cracks, they’re probably my works.

Isabella Bustamante: What’s the name I gave for you? Do you remember?

Aneesa Razak: No.

Isabella Bustamante: The Store.

Aneesa Razak: Oh, I am The Store. I am The Store.

Isabella Bustamante: So Aneesa would have the sketchbooks laid out, and then there would be all of the different snacks. Sour straws, Snowballs, Drake’s Coffee Cake.

Aneesa Razak: A honey bun.

Isabella Bustamante: Honey buns. Yes.

Aneesa Razak: I think I grew the habit of an eight-hour workday. You had to have your lunch packed, your snack packed.

Isabella Bustamante: At Teen Art Salon, Aneesa and Quinn are probably tied in some algorithm for the amount of most hours ever spent.

Aneesa Razak: Tell me about this piece, the big one.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: It came from seeing Kayla again. My friend from high school. Freshman year, she told me I couldn’t draw. She was like, “You suck.” That’s what she said to me. And I was like, “Okay, that means I have to get better.” And I saw her recently. I was like, “Do you remember when you said this to me because you were so mean back in high school.” She’s like, “I said that, but you got better.” And so I was thinking about that. I was just drawing her, just thinking about that time, how far it took me to learn how to draw realistically, which is what I pushed myself to do.

Aneesa Razak: Isa, I admire you for the amount of times that I just would look over to your work in anatomy class. And I’m like, “Dang. Isa knows how to draw an amazing body to the T, with shadows, and the proportions were all right.” And it’s taken me years to feel comfortable drawing a figure that is realistic.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: That’s actually why I made the green drawing, where I just started taking away details from the body. How much detail can I put into a figure for it to be read as a figure or as a face, or just as a person, as an entity? The one all the way towards the left, it’s more like a person. And then as you move on to the other two, it gets less people-like, but it can still kind of be understood that it’s a person. Something that I always admired about your work is that I always saw it as conceptual. I always liked that there was something behind it rather than just the learning aspect of it.

Aneesa Razak: Now, looking back, I kind of clung on to the symbol of a ghost, that meaning having multiple identities. And I was super into making work about family history and what it’s like to be a first generation kid in America, so then the figure acted as a placeholder for that. I guess, Roman Room, it forced me to sit down and think of certain things I didn’t want to forget, but also not tell a full story.

Isa Madai Azpeitia Camargo: We’re both obscurifying.

Aneesa Razak: Obscuring things.

Jolene Fernandez: I’m Jolene Fernandez. I grew up in Brooklyn during the time I was attending Teen Art Salon. The works that you’ll see of mine in the show are first and foremost the bed sheet painting. The origin story was at Teen Art Salon in the studio. Isabella shared a book on James Ensor’s work with me, and from the moment I saw Christ’s Entry into Brussels, I was like, “This is one of the greatest paintings ever.” And it’s huge. I started it in 2019. I was really lacking inspiration in one of my painting classes at UCLA. I was just looking through paintings that I loved and I was like, “Why don’t I just recreate this painting?” And my professor was like, “Yeah, go for it.”

So, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this big painting, but big paintings are really expensive. I can’t afford a giant canvas. This would be so much paint.” So I improvised and my mom was like, “We’ve got this bed sheet you can take.” I was like, “Cool.” And then… And then COVID happened. I wasn’t finished with the painting yet, and so I hung it in my parents’ balcony and I just continued working on it and obviously everyone was social distancing, so I wasn’t seeing a lot of people. This bed sheet really became this very cathartic experience. I could include any characters I wanted, fictional, real, video game characters, movie characters, storybook characters, really anyone. Yeah, it felt like time traveling, seeing it again and remembering all the moments that had passed in front of that sheet.

Isabella Bustamante: What do people misunderstand or not get about teenagers?

Jolene Fernandez: Yeah. This is something I thought about a lot because today is my parents’ wedding anniversary, and what’s so crazy is that they were teenagers when they had me and they were immigrants from the Philippines and now they’re out here in Brooklyn thriving and it’s their wedding anniversary. I can’t imagine being 17, 18. I’m a teenager, I’m a kid. I made this huge decision and I’m going to be a kid with a kid and then just keep going. Yeah, more than anything, I’m just so proud of them for overcoming these great obstacles socially, politically, economically. Yeah. I wouldn’t be here without them. Sorry.

Isabella Bustamante: It’s okay. What you’re addressing right now though, is the sheer vulnerability that I think is in this show, though it was made in this context of extreme joy, friendship, bonding. The complex example of your family and your parents is really reflective, I think, in the deep patience, hard work and sincerity that all of these young artists have brought forward. We trivialize this experience and it’s often not looked at with the rawness, the ugliness, the awkwardness. Yeah. All the gray parts of having to get older at an age where you don’t know how to get older yet. We exploit adolescence, we glorify and sometimes celebrate this as the pinnacle. The best part. The time working with you all together is like, let’s try and not do that, and let’s try instead to show the reality of the lived experience of coming of age.

Daphne Knouse: My name is Daphne Knouse. I’m an alumni of Teen Art Salon, which I attended in high school.

Isabella Bustamante: So Daphne, welcome to MoMA PS1, where we have this opportunity to historicize your experience coming to the studio, and also talk a little bit about the art practice now. I want to chat about the early iconography in your work. The Yogi and Podcaster are currently in a section called No Exits, which follows my observations that there’s a lot of entrapment in the work that I’ve observed through the years in physical spaces, through windows, doors, locks, keys, but also in your own kind of internalization.

Daphne Knouse: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think that our age group was at a very weird point in time when COVID hit, of just emerging into adulthood, and then all of a sudden it’s like you actually just have to sit with yourself. A lot of what I did when I was spending time alone was watch my roommate do yoga and listen to podcasts, which are two sort of ultimate coping mechanisms for this.

Isabella Bustamante: Yeah. True therapy. Self-therapy.

Daphne Knouse: I’m interested in what we do now with this weird world in which people are pretending everything is normal and chill, but there’s still a sense of overwhelming loneliness and confusion. A sense of the whole world becoming more enclosed and more adolescent.