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Trash is Taking Over the Art World

BROCKTON, MA.-A new trend has emerged in the art world: trash. Exhibitions of artful trash are appearing in museums and galleries all over the country. Fuller Craft Museum is tackling the trash topic on a regional scale with 112 east coast artists in Trashformations East. The Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh has invited Lloyd Herman, founding director of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery and Trashformations East curator, to jury the award Transformations: Contemporary Works in Found Materials. The Addison Gallery of American Art’s new exhibition Over + Over: Passion for Process features works by artists who use obsessively repetitive processes to transform ordinary materials into works of art (including Trashformations East artist Jennifer Maestre). And Art from Detritus: Recycling with Imagination at the Synagogue for the Arts, New York includes work by 50 artists (such as Trashformations East artist David Edgar) helping to save the planet through their art making.

Curated by Lloyd Herman, the Fuller Craft Museum exhibition Trashformations East features works by east coast artists who use found objects and recycled materials in unique ways. The exhibition’s exciting and witty works of art, with underlying themes of recycling and environmentalism, have made the exhibition tremendously popular. So much so that Trashformations East is being held over at Fuller Craft Museum until August 28, 2005.

The popularity of this and other recent exhibitions of art made from found objects and recycled materials have resulted in a flurry of media coverage. Several leading national newspapers, among other publications, have covered exhibitions of trash–turned–art in San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and London. In recent months The New York Times has covered an open studio event with artists in residence at San Francisco’s Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center, Turner Prize-nominated artist Tomoko Takahashi’s installation of thousands of items collected from trash bins at Serpentine Gallery in London, and John Evans’ collages of objects found on the streets of New York. An article in The Washington Times featured unique art made from toothpicks, appliances and more at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Center. And The Washington Post raved about the exhibition On Their Own: Selected Works by Self-Taught African American Artists at the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture featuring works using found objects and domestic materials like buttons, fabric scraps and broken dishes.

The success of Trashformations East and similar exhibitions is due, in part, to the artists’ use of ordinary materials in extraordinary ways. Fuller Craft Museum Director Gretchen Keyworth says, “Part of the fun of Trashformations is that it raises many questions—What is this made of? How did they do this? Is this art? And it is that moment—the ‘ah ha’ moment—that excites us when we recognize something familiar.” The artists in Trashformations East push the idea of recycling to the extreme by taking items rooted in function and giving them new life as craft objects with a familiar feel. They see hidden potential in objects that are no longer desirable for their original purpose.

Found objects provide Trashformations East artists with both ‘raw material’ for creating craft and sources of inspiration. Laura Evans, a painter bored with oils and watercolors, turned to brown paper bags as material inspiration. Her Four Square wall piece is composed of several brown paper bags folded and arranged in a geometric design. Artist Sophia Ainslie collects junk mail catalogues and transforms them into sculpture using chicken wire as a base. Amy Lipshie used another form of discarded paper—cereal boxes—to create her S/He vessel. Vivid cartoon-like colors, meant to draw your attention to Cheerios or Wheaties boxes are instead woven together in a beautiful composition of color and pattern. Jennifer Maestre has taken dozens of sharpened pencil stubs, strung them together and twisted them into a double helix titled Dyad.

The jewelry pieces in Trashformations East are also examples of inspired recycling. Sergey Jivetin’s Battle Formation Brooch, is a perilous looking pin made of hundreds of tiny black watch hands with the points facing outward. Jewelry maker Holly Anne Mitchell proves she can’t let anything go to waste with her piece A Penny Saved is a Bracelet!! made from expired coupons. And Kathy Buszkiewicz’ Omnia Vanitas VII is a ring created out of US currency folded into a spiral of green and white patterns.

For these and other artists the attractions to trash are numerous. According to Trashformations East curator Lloyd Herman, “Some artists are attracted to the colorful patterning of grocery store packaging, or magazine photos, or playing cards. Others like the texture of old shingles or chromed car trim. And some see in the form of pencils, bedpans, or clock hands new possibilities for them in art. Sometimes a shape will remind them of something else, but almost all makers like found objects for their art because such discards are usually free.” All of the artists in Trashformations East and other exhibitions of found object art have successfully mined the detritus of our “throw away” society and given new life to once used resources. Their recycled creations may make you think twice before throwing anything out.

Trashformations East will be on exhibit at Fuller Craft Museum through August 28, 2005. The exhibition features work by artists who find creative uses for other people's garbage, making lingerie out of soda cans, jewelry from expired coupons and furniture out of everything from skis to lawn mowers. Trashformations East is curated by Lloyd Herman, founding director of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and one of the foremost authorities on America's contemporary craft movement. The exhibition has been underwritten by donors to the Atkinson Fund and celebrates the life of Jennifer L. Atkinson, 1958-2003.

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Trash is Taking Over the Art World

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