One of art’s ongoing assets is its ability to adapt; from social and economic reactions to those regarding aesthetics or ethical values. Art’s evolution is both natural and necessary. One such evolutionary leap is the incorporation of non-traditional media into the material vocabulary of fine art. Whereas fine art once seemed restricted to material choices like stone, paint, ceramics, ink or pencil on paper, bronze, etc.; we now realize the expressive possibilities of discarded clothes, tallow, neon lights, butterfly wings, old radio broadcasts… even living snails. Manufactured objects (re-discovered and vocal in their new contexts as works of art) alongside installations, assemblages, immersive sonic and film pieces inform our extensive modern lexicon of artistic potential in the Hirshhorn’s exhibition Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present.
Joseph Cornell, Medici Princess, 1952, paint, wood, photomechanical reproductions, glass, paper, string, cork, metal, plastic, and feather in glass-faced wood box. © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. From the Hirshhorn’s collection.
Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Blue Duck Chair, galvanized sheet metal, wood, paint, resin, fresnel lens, mechanical reproduction, porcelain pn steel, brass, leather, and electric light, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
The pieces in this exhibition are from the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection and offer an illuminating variety of material-based adventures that traverse subject matter and popular movements from the art world over the last century. The broader commentary this exhibit seems to make regards the potential for material-specific expression in visual arts. A collection of assemblages by Joseph Cornell illustrate the possibilities that found objects have in suggesting narrative content, as well as the allure of intimate specimen-like inquest in display and scale. That presence of scale, with no reduction in narrative or involvement, is elaborated upon in Blue Duck Chair by Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, offering a suggestive surrealistic relationship of material and compositional decisions. Memory of My Youth in the Mountains by Joseph Beuys poses some unique questions on material (albeit, from my perspective, mainly curatorial); composed from tallow, oil, wax, wood, metal and a carpenter’s rule, this piece calls attention to descriptive components based on the nature of the materials themselves. This is to say, the materials have significance due to what they are, and not only because of their aesthetic or workable considerations.
Such queries into material choices and what implications can be made by media impart a curious subliminal layer to this exhibition. Simply put, the inclusion of materials like these into our lexicon of art resources expands the vocabulary and potential dialogue of artistic expression. Although this exhibit surveys the past century of material exploration, it respectfully represents the initial thrust of the continuing inventive material potential in art’s evolution.
This exhibition runs through September 8, 2013. For more information, please visit: http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/home