Blown Away in New York City

The sheer genius of this blog entry’s title describing my reaction to an exhibition I recently saw in NYC will soon become apparent! The exhibition was hosted by the Museum of Art and Design (MAD). Don’t overlook this wonderfully innovative institution when planning your museum quota on your next visit to the Big Apple.  If you’re thinking boring dinnerware or furniture, think again.

The exhibition in question is entitled Swept Away: Dust, Ashes and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design. I thought that I had been exposed to most materials which artists use in their creative endeavors but I was wrong. Who would have thought that the dirt you try to sweep under your carpet could produce such powerful, lyrical and poetic works of art? Hence my title ‘Blown Away’ 🙂 !

Take for example the the intricately stenciled traditional pattern which artist Catherine Bertola used to decorate a significant portion of the top gallery. Her designs resemble oversized flocked wallpaper. But in fact Bertola swept up the daily accumulation of the museum’s very own dust and dirt, added water to create a pleasantly grey ‘ink’, and stenciled this mixture directly onto the museum walls to delightful effect.

Jim Dingilim’s row of illustrated bottles defies the imagination. The artist begins by placing empty bottles over candle flames till they fill up with black soot. With his custom-made tools he then laboriously wipes away the soot from the inside till he arrives at breathtaking miniature illustrations depicting nature scenes or bridges with passing cars. The glass allows the back and front scenes to overlap, creating an unexpected dimensionality. One wrong swipe and the entire work would be ruined. Truly a testament to the guy’s talent and infinite patience.

A very beautiful piece by Phoebe Cummings was entitled Flora. Cummings created a magnificent and intricate vase of flowers out of clay. This monochrome floral arrangement was set into a recessed alcove, resembing marble sculptures found in 18th or 19th century architectural detailing. However, the clay was not fired, ensuring that the blossoms dry out, crack and crumble away into oblivion. The artist has claimed that her interest is in the process; what happens after that is of little interest.

Adjacent to Cummings work was an incredibly moving installation Ashes to Ashes by Antonio Rielli. Rielli turned to his own library of books and chose several candidates to burn. He then incarcerated the ashes of each separate book into the stems of individual wine glasses complete with the book’s title etched into the glass. These silent literary urns speak volumes about  destruction and preservation of culture, not to mention the deafening commentary on the fate of books in our e-world.

Rielli’s installation struck a real chord with me, no doubt because it resonated with my own book-based installation Living Without Them exhibited at the Katzen Center at the American University in Washington DC.

There were too many superb works to mention but I have to slip in just one more spectacular piece on another floor. It took my breath away – possibly one of the most perfect installations I have ever seen in terms of the perfect marriage of concept and aesthetics.

Javier Peres shipped over an enormous, exquisite, blood-red Murano glass chandelier from Venice and had it dropped and broken in situ. He then placed stuffed crows over the bleeding mass of broken glass. The effect is startling. Peres is making his point about the craft of glass blowing which had been passed on from generation to generation but is now rapidly disappearing and in danger of becoming extinct. I was speechless. Let me know if anyone else thinks this work is beyond gorgeous…

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