Saturday, December 5, 2009

Even a little rust can be helped with some primer….

“Something from Nothing: Contemporary Recycled Sculpture from America’s Rustbelt”
Canton Museum of Art 11/27/09 – 3/7/10

When it comes to works of art and art shows, I have a real thing about titles, make them relevant, make them logical and make them thoughtfully so as to help the less informed understand what is being shown. The current show at the Canton Museum of Art is called “Something from Nothing” which is not really true. Everything was something before it became something else. I understand why the title was chosen as the materials used are supposedly all recycled, but saying those items were nothing is not fair to the former use of the objects or materials in question. Now before everyone gets all bent out of shape about my point of view, let me explain how I view (or review) art exhibitions.

As far as I am concerned, my opinion of what is good and what is bad, what is successful and what is not so great, is not relevant. One should not see a show because of what I think of it or because I tell you what you should think of it. I approach a show with the intent of finding what one can get out of it as a viewer. Museums are not “galleries” in the sense that an art gallery is “commercial or retail” in the vernacular of the general public. A “museum” is a place to go see “art”. The difference being to the general public, (henceforth known as the GP) is that labels in galleries have prices on them. A “museum” is intimidating to the GP at times. We need to make them more viewer friendly so that the next generation will be encouraged to continue supporting the arts in the future. That being said, I look at a show the same way I did as an instructor at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the children’s education department. I have to figure out how I can make the work understandable, applicable and worth the time spent.

The current show is all sculptures and constructions, made from discarded objects. Nothing has been carved, cast or created from nothing. I am not a sculptor and I don’t have much hands-on experience in the 3-D media outside of a class or two in all of them for general educational purposes. Therefore, my experience in the galleries was not as an artist, but as an educator. Some of the pieces I could walk right past, their message not touching me at all. If I can move an item or two from here to there and it does not change anything, then I guess I don’t get the point. Other pieces I find engaging and amusing, like the King and Queen which could be part of Alice’s wonderful garden along with the Darkness and the Rainbow sculpture. Both of these were visually interesting from multiple points of view, inviting the eyes to keep searching for different elements. Other works are delightfully logical and elegant in their simplicity as was the bare bones fish sculpture, Kikokuryo. Sometimes less is more as “they” say.

I look for purpose and inspiration in pieces as well. A tin can is a logical steamship funnel and constructions like “Ship of Fools” can hold the attention of a child for quite a while, picking out various objects whose purposes were well thought out. Some pieces tell a story like Pedal to Petals and some inspire stories like the Octopuses suspended in the middle of the room. Those two serpentine sea creatures held my interest the most as they are elegant and graceful to the point that I could almost feel the artist dancing with the limbs as he (she?...with the first name Chris, one can’t tell anymore these days), decided just how they should swirl. The glass eyes and protruding body part (what it is called, I don’t know, but you see it all the time in horror movies before it swallows the submarine) are translucent and rich in color like shallow sea water.

A common gallery teaching technique for works of non-traditional art is to ask a child what title would he or she give a particular piece and why. When the actual title is revealed, watching the mental gears start turning to make sense of it is often very interesting. I felt that way about the 1+1=1 piece. Such situations inspire the imagination or leave one befuddled. Overall, it is good to see something completely different at the Museum and especially good for this time of year when kids are out of school and parents need something to do with them. Visit this show, ask lots of questions, let them search for familiar things used in unfamiliar ways, and in some cases, reach out and touch the art itself as requested by a few of the artists.

What is missing, or should I say “who” is missing, are Mark Soppeland and PR Miller, a couple of local icons in the use of recycled stuff. I could ask why, but I believe I already know the answer and it is just another paragraph in the same old story. Do I get the overall message of the show in its historical and contemporary context? Yeah, I do. I got A’s in art history and artistic philosophy, but so what. To most viewers, this kind of work is not that “deep” in meaning. It very well may be, and some works are just so “out there” intellectually that I doubt the GP would understand them, but nonetheless, it is a well curated exhibition of contemporary artists from the Rustbelt and a show that makes sculpture a bit more relevant to those outside the artistic inner circle.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. You imply that YOU understand the "out there" stuff that the "GP" wouldn't. So why not engage and explain your take a litle more, so as to offer a 'handle' on the headier stuff? As far as missing PR Miller in this context, the works in this show live in a whole other league. I hope he gets inspired to lift his work to another level.