Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art will open at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts Friday, November 10, 2006. Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and curated by Dana Miller, associate curator at the Whitney, Extra-Ordinary brings together more than 70 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures from the museum’s permanent collection.
“Our original thought was that we would be changing pace by picking up something bright and colorful and cheerful and accessible and recognizable,” explained Susan Edwards, executive director of the Frist Center for the Arts during a recent phone interview with O&AN, ”It seems now like we are following more of a continuum than we originally thought.”
“It will be quite a departure not only from the Egyptian exhibit but also from many of the others which we have had in the past,” added Nancy Cason, head curator for the Frist Center for the Arts. “It’s going to attract the attention of lots of folks who may have never been here before. There’s lot’s of novelty and fun factor to this exhibition along with some very creative work.”
Extra-Ordinary illuminates unexpected facets of the familiar—the extraordinary within the ordinary—through artworks that compel us to examine our surroundings with fresh eyes. Each piece plays with the traditional notion that art must be elevated beyond everyday life, in both its content and its medium. Spanning more than 85 years of American art, these works present a record of the culture in which they were created, capturing precise moments in American life, and often the implicit commentary of the artist as well.
“This work will help to open up the possibilities of every day life around us,” said Cason. “Everything either depicts or is made of an everyday object that would normally just be overlooked. I think it will make us much more aware of the art and creative ideas all around us that we ordinarily just take for granted.”
Following World War II, America experienced a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. An abundance of consumer goods and a deluge of images—from billboard advertisements and comic strips to product packaging on supermarket shelves—provided artists with a fresh iconography. In the mid-1950s, a generation of emerging artists looked to these items as alternatives to Abstract Expressionism, the dominant mode of art making in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg considered the materials of their environment for their subject matter. While Rauschenberg incorporated items such as newspapers, glass bottles and bedding into his paintings, Johns depicted familiar images such as American flags, ale cans, targets and numbers. These items became a visual vocabulary that he would return to again and again throughout his career.
Building on the experiments of Johns and Rauschenberg, a number of vanguard artists in the 1960s incorporated both humor and irony in their work, celebrating America while satirizing its excess of material comforts. Art that enthusiastically appropriated popular imagery and the burgeoning commodity culture was loosely dubbed “Pop.” For Andy Warhol, one of the foremost practitioners of Pop Art, this fascination often centered on the branding and marketing of consumer goods. Extra-Ordinary features Warhol’s Green Coca-Cola Bottles, which depicts multiple images of this American icon with its distinctive silhouette and calligraphic logo.
Many of the artists in this exhibition were drawn to items whose shelf life was soon to expire, objects about to become artifacts from a specific moment in our material culture. The clothespin, an item rendered nearly obsolete by the electric clothes dryer, is the subject of Oldenburg’s Clothespin—45-Foot Version, Model, which suggests a sense of nostalgia or even sadness. In his assemblage, Jeff Koons treats vacuum cleaners as relics, hermetically sealing them in a lit display case, entirely divorced from their original function.
Other artists address a more biographical relationship to inanimate things, which become metaphors for their wishes or memories. When Tony Feher completed his 1997 work, composed of 57 plastic Coca-Cola bottles, the sculpture reminded him of the pattern of metal stitches on his torso after a major surgery, and he gave it the title Suture “in homage” to his lasting scar. In the context of this exhibition, Feher’s work can’t help but call to mind Warhol’s earlier painting as well.
Carefully distilling their subjects from their surroundings, the artists in this exhibition reveal the poetry and magic in the everyday. The artwork continues to be relevant for American artists, enduring in some of the extraordinary artwork of the 21stcentury. “Every exhibit has their individual audience so it’s amazing when we have something that is more esoteric,” said Edwards, “We have all kinds of people who come to the Frist will all levels of backgrounds and experience with art. That’s the job of the Frist is to try to make the world see just a little bit smaller. If a person were to attend the Frist on a regular basis over a five year period they would get to see the art of the world.”
“This is absolutely a very rare opportunity for Nashvillians to be exposed to this artwork,” added Cason, “It’s a nice tight span of time mostly from the early 60’s through the present day with a large variety of pieces held together beautifully with the theme of the everyday object.”
The exhibition features artwork that challenges traditional definitions of art, while also documenting 20th-century American culture. Artists represented in the exhibition include Vija Celmins, Jim Dine, Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Wayne Thiebaud, Fred Tomaselli, Andy Warhol and more.
Extra-Ordinary continues through February 11, 2007.