CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Ordinary materials - from paper cups and pencil stubs to tires, twist ties and playing cards - are transformed into extraordinary art in a new exhibition at the University of Illinois' Krannert Art Museum.
"OVER + OVER: PASSION FOR PROCESS," on view Jan. 29 through April 3, includes works by 13 artists from throughout the United States who share a compulsion for the time- and labor-intensive, craft-inspired processes required to re-envision mundane, everyday items as remarkably inventive and often provocative objects of art.
Organized by museum director Kathleen Harleman with guest curators Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan, the show will travel to the Addision Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., April 29 through July 31. An illustrated companion catalog, to be published later this spring, will feature essays by the curators and by Dr. Judith Rapoport, chief of the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.
Kathleen Harleman, director of the Krannert Art Museum, organized the new exhibition "OVER + OVER: PASSION FOR PROCESS" with guest curators Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan.
Photo by Kwame Ross
The exhibition's featured artists are Chakaia Booker, New York City; Juliann Cydylo, Boston; Tom Friedman, Northampton, Mass.; Tom Fruin, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Victoria Haven, Seattle; Lisa Hoke, New York City; Nina Katchadourian, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Liza Lou, Los Angeles; Jennifer Maestre, Maynard, Mass; Elizabeth Simonson, New York City; Devorah Sperber, New York City; Fred Tomaselli, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Rachel Perry Welty, Boston.
"These are artists who are all part of the digital age - who are of that generation," Harleman said. "What they've chosen to do in the midst of this hypertech era is to do time-consuming activities, in terms of their artmaking. Their work is almost dialectic."
Harleman noted that artists aligned with the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century responded similarly to the rapid rise of industrialization by producing well-crafted, handmade decorative and functional objects from natural materials.
Lisa Hoke's "Moonglow," was created in 2004 of plastic cups, paint, electrical ties and grommets.
However, she said, the artists exhibiting in the Krannert show are perhaps more closely connected to practitioners of "Process Art," an approach emphasizing organic, tactile materials and themes, which emerged in the 1960s as a response to Minimalism's austere, mass-produced aesthetic. The curators of "OVER + OVER" refer to this new creative approach as HyperProcess Art.
While technology still manages to inform much of the work of the HyperProcess artists, in sometimes subtle ways, it takes a back seat to the hands-on art-making processes involved. Those processes incorporate craft and hobby skills such as beading, sewing, quilting, silhouette cutting, collaging and collecting. Both natural and industrially produced materials are used in the work, Harleman said, to "negotiate a path between organic and geometric form, between the pixilated and the painterly."
Another distinctive characteristic that binds the show's artists is the repetitive, almost compulsive nature of their artmaking.
"Although there have been other investigations of extreme craft, this is the first exhibition to focus on the work of artists whose subject matter is obsession - from homemaking to hobbies to additions," Harleman said.
The link to obsession becomes obvious to viewers in such works as Lou's "Cup of Coffee" and "Six Pack of Budweiser," mixed-media pieces in which these icons of Americana have been reconstructed using thousands of tiny beads; and Maestre's "Spine," "3 to 1 Twist," and "Primal Scream Therapy," all constructed from the pointy ends of pencils.
"Once we get past the wow factor of the work presented here - how many hours, Exacto blades, and beads it must have taken - and have recognized it as a hybrid new form that combines elements of Process Art with the mutually contradictory rubrics of the hand-crafted and the computer-generated, we can begin to address its content," Fox wrote in her catalog essay.
"Obsessive in facture, these pieces also deal with the subject of obsession, and reflect the neuroses and preoccupations of this society," Fox wrote. "To embrace traditional craft methods and put them into the service of an examination of today's culture inserts irony into both the technique and the meaning."
Harleman said one example of how materials and meaning mix and mingle to translate as a metaphor for obsession is Tomaselli's untitled 2-D image that incorporates an outline cut from a bird-watching guide, infilled with collage pieces extracted from a Land's End catalog. "For some people, bird-watching can become an obsessive behavior," Harleman said.
And that's just one of many works that the museum director expects will appeal to visitors on multiple levels.
"People will have fun trying to figure out what materials the artists have used, then they'll reflect on how such a repetitive, meticulous process can be executed, over and over again," she said.
An opening reception for "OVER + OVER" and two other new shows - "Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy and Judgment from Dürer to the Twentieth Century" and "Laws of Abstraction" - will be held at KAM from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 28.