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second lives: remixing the ordinary

created over 7 years ago | Tagged: design, safety, green hot, art, repurposed waste, recycling, second lives, found objects,


Doh-Ho Suh’s “Metal jacket,” center, is made from Army dog tags.

In “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary” at the new Museum of Arts and Design, masses of plastic utensils and combs, vinyl LPs, dangling eyeglasses, syringes, ladies’ pumps, pieces of crockery and spools of thread are marshaled into works of art or design, most of them derivative and gimmicky.

“Second Lives” confirms how thoroughly blurred the lines dividing art, craft and design have become over the past few decades.

"Sound Wave" (2007) by Jean Shin, center.

Unfortunately, its lens is a strategy that has reached epidemic proportions in the larger art world: the use of many small things to make one big thing, confounding expectations going or coming.

A chandelier made out of recycled eyeglasses by Stuart Haygarth.

The idea is at least as old as Meret Oppenheim’s beloved and far too influential fur-lined teacup and has trickled down through generations of found-object assemblages and sculptures by artists like Arman, Tony Cragg, Donald Lipski and Tom Sachs.

The basic experience in works of this kind is: You see the thing, then you see the things it is made of. Something in the way of a punch line follows. Terese Agnew’s photorealist image of a textile worker is made of entirely of clothing labels.

“My Back Pages” (2006-2008) by Paul Villinski There is a simplistic political thrust to a lot of this work, but environmental sensitivity is mostly nil. Some questions for the artists here are: Thought about your carbon footprint lately? Are more iterations of this tired Surrealist idea needed? Are you really giving the objects you’re using a second life, or just enabling them to last longer and take up more space?

Not surprisingly those efforts with a modicum of recycling consciousness, modesty or actual use tend to convey the most integrity. This includes an austere patchwork cupboard made of scrap wood by Piet Hein Eek, right, and large hanging lamps fashioned from wire, light bulbs and old newspapers by Nnenna Okore, left.

Michael Rakowitz’s transformations of Middle Eastern fast food containers into close, slightly comical copies of the ancient artifacts now missing from the Baghdad museum seduce the eye while offering up hard and hard-to-take information about the unending costs of war, especially the unending kind.

“Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary,” with masses of plastic utensils and combs, old LPs, dangling eyeglasses, syringes, ladies’ pumps, pieces of crockery and spools of thread. These are just some of the things marshaled into works of art or design, most of them derivative and gimmicky, representing around 50 individuals or artist teams. Together the works broadcast loud and clear the museum’s ambition to upgrade its profile and segue from its previous concentration on craft to a hipper, more wide-ranging program. The first sign was the 2002 change of name from the American Craft Museum to the more amorphous, cosmopolitan Museum of Arts and Design. You might wonder if every museum on earth has to be involved with contemporary art.




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