Contemporary art practices continue to evolve in the shadow cast years ago by artist Marcel Duchamp, whose simple yet extraordinary act in 1914 of selecting a common bottle rack and signing it wrenched that object out of the “useful” context and placed it in the context of “a work of art.” Since then, art has moved steadily closer to the world around it, drawing the everyday into its realm and sweeping aside traditional distinctions as to the materials and spaces of art.
Drawn primarily from the Museum's permanent collection, What Matters considers works by an intergenerational group of contemporary artists whose varied approaches to re-contextualizing the familiar have in common a conviction in material intelligence as way of thinking and communicating. Because materials themselves are signifiers of meaning, an artist's selection proves to be a critical strategy in the art making process.
For some artists, using materials that refuse to relinquish their identities provides a catalyst for a narrative to unfold (Willie Cole's boat hull, Taylor Davis's bale of hay, Doris Salcedo's door). Some select common objects for their inherent formal properties and incorporate them relatively unaltered (Tony Feher's plastic bottles, Jodie Manasevit's bricks, Andrew Witkin's stones). For others, non-traditional media provide effective surfaces for paintings precisely because they are laden with cultural associations (Jim Isermann's shag, Tim Rollins and K.O.S.'s book pages, Yinka Shonibare's “African-print” fabric).
If art offers an opportunity to rethink our engagement with the world around us, artists who are drawn to exploring materials that are familiar yet altered as to their origins and uses seem equally invested in material experience as a way of deepening our perceptual capacities so we might arrive at new understandings of what matters.
“I think people are looking all the time, but I don't think they are seeing anything. And I think that's true not just with a piece of art that's in front of them, but in a larger cultural sense… If you can accept a soda bottle with condensation on the inside as a work of art, then maybe that's a way of seeing a broader picture, or of seeing the world from a different point of view.”
The exhibition considers works spanning two decades (1988-2008) by a roster of leading contemporary artists including Claire Barclay, Willie Cole, Taylor Davis, Melvin Edwards, Heide Fasnacht, Tony Feher, Jim Isermann, Jim Lambie, Jodie Manasevit, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Doris Salcedo, Yinka Shonibare, and Andrew Witkin.
This exhibition is supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund.