This spring (though May 17) the Ringling Museum of Art presents “Re:Purposed,” an exhibition highlighting contemporary artists who regularly incorporate cast-off or disposed materials in their creation of new works. The show was organized by Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Matthew McLendon, who received Bachelors degrees in Art History and Music at Florida State University and his MA and PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
Featuring the work of 10 artists—including established artists such as El Anatsui and Nick Cave, emerging and mid-career artists such as Jill Sigman, Emily Noelle Lambert, and Mac Premo—”Re:Purposed” explores several of the distinct trends among artists who consistently “repurpose” garbage in their respective practices. Evolving from Marcel Duchamp’s early 20th century development of the “readymade” and continuing the tradition of assemblage, these artists reinvent non-traditional materials to create artworks, encouraging new thinking about the objects and materials that surround us. McLendon describes the motivation for this unique show:
Over the past several years, I’ve encountered a range of artists who, while working with very different materials and genres, all incorporate and reinvent cast-off materials in their creation of new artworks. This practice of making art, which expands traditional assemblage, deserves more attention, and we wanted to bring a core group of these artists together and, through this exhibition, give them a critical platform and voice to introduce our visitors to their work.
Showcasing over 30 works of art, all created within the last few years, “Re:Purposed” brings these inventive artists together for the first time and presents their work across three themes: “Identity,” “Index,” and “Environment.” McLendon selected these themes as points of entry into this diverse and complex body of work, which encompasses expanded notions of sculpture, collage, performance and monumental installations. Each theme presents a different aspect of our relationship to what we consume and then discard, and serve as a reminder of our close connections to the materials we use to create and facilitate our lives.
In considering “Environment,” the exhibition highlights contemporary artists who have used the re-purposing of discarded materials to voice concerns about the environmental consequences of late-capitalist consumption. An especially prominent work is choreographer and artist Jill Sigman’s site-specific piece for her ongoing “Hut Project” series (2009–present), for which Sigman creates huts made from found materials that she collects in each project location. To create “Hut #10” for The Ringling, Sigman spent several weeks in Sarasota, FL, collecting materials from across the area and from members of The Ringling community that were used to build the new work. The work of Aurora Robson, who uses her childhood nightmares as source materials and transforms thousands of PET plastic bottles into unrecognizable and fantastical large-scale sculptures and installations, also helps visitors contemplate their relationship to the objects they enter into the waste stream.
For the notion of “Identity,” McLendon selected artists whose works underscore our construction of identities and personae through the collecting and eventual discarding of objects, whether bought or scavenged. A selection of “Soundsuits” constructed by Nick Cave out of objects collected at flea markets and antique shops, and complex sculptures created by visual and performance artist Vanessa German from materials such as vintage matchbox covers and whiskey stirrers, illustrate how the “object biography”—or the accumulation of biographical associations embodied by an object—easily become entangled with the biographies of both the artist who adopts and re-uses them and the viewers that encounter them in an entirely new form.
Extending from the concept of “Identity” is “Index”, which is explored through works that demonstrate the profound indexical nature of the objects that people cast-off. While Brooklyn-based artist Emily Noelle Lambert’s “found form” sculpture may not at first appear indexical, each constituent piece recalls a story and a place for the Lambert, which she recombines to create new, often totemic sculptures. Another notable work is Mac Premo’s monumental installation, “The Dumpster Project.” Triggered by his need to move to a smaller studio, the Brooklyn-based artist catalogued and photographed nearly 500 objects that he collected for his collage practice over the past decade—including everything from a diving mask to a baseball Yarmulke—and he installed these objects as one monumental collage piece in a 30-yard dumpster. For “Re:Purposed,” Premo visited The Ringling and installed the dumpster on the grounds of the museum, inviting visitors to enter the dumpster and explore the large-scale piece at their own pace.
Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2008 & 2013, mixed media including hats, bags, and rag rugs, 110 x 36 x 32 inches, © Nick Cave. Photo by James Prinz Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
General Admission includes the Ringling Museum of Art, special exhibitions, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, Circus Museum, and Mable’s historic Rose Garden, all on 66 acres of lushly landscaped grounds. Adults are $25; senior citizens (65 and over) are $20; children ages 6-17 are $5; a three-day pass is $35. Free Admission for children 5 and under accompanied by an adult, museum member. Advance tickets are available online or by calling 941.358.3180. Visit www.ringling.org for more information.