Friend, designer and long-time champion of things beautiful John Foster sent a splendid little catalog of the exhibition he co-curated with Roger Manley for the Gregg Museum of Art & Design in North Carolina. A wonderful show of objects made by age, use, nature, mistake and unexpected circumstance…as well as a few made by those who would have been called during Aaron Copeland's time "the common man."
Drawing upon the collections of a few thinkers who ponder such things, the exhibit enlarges our understanding of what art is, especially when there is no formerly designated artist present. The show is full of the reason I go to flea markets, antique shows…and even why I take walks. Unexpected delights which cause one to pause and marvel. Do we need an artist's strategy or intention to create or appreciate art? Of course not.
A stack of drugstore prescription receipts placed precisely on a spindle over the years represents order, procedure, tradition, progress, law, regulation, success, safely served customers, sales and my father's generation ruled by orderliness all in one humble object. There is decorative appeal, and a precision one would see in any well-crafted object, yet unless there is an institution collecting filled spindles of script, would this powerful object have been seen in the context of an art museum? Were not for the adventurous folks who seek out such objects, no. The only common thread among the material here is found in the folks who contributed their finds.
A make-do chimney cleaning device from the collection of Rick Ege may have saved a few house fires, so function and utility applies, as does wear and need. But what makes the bucket worthy of thought and admiration? I am left only with the belief it is Ege himself and the curators. That is not a bad thing. Taste makers do more than sell product or decorate homes. They bring attention to things not appreciated before. In this case, things seen but not observed. In another of Ege's found objects, a homemade radio antenna brings to mind the crucifixion and a radio preacher simultaneously. At least to me.
Aarne Anton, who has carried a luxurious appreciation of form with him for decades is represented with a twig "tack holder" but is that what it is? Mr. Anton has the ability to discern exceptional happenstance from normal happenstance. He has with consistent skill and thoughtfulness for a long time. But can this object simply be a tack holder? Could it have had held ribbons over the years? Notes to remember something or to instruct a worker nearby? A thing to meet by, something to think "hmpf" while passing? I will defer to Mr. Anton.
The show incorporates anonymous snapshots, functional objects, tools and devices along with a thoughtful essay by Roger Manley, who has also championed art created by the untrained for a long time.
As there are no formal standards or criteria for determining what is art and what is not (without being elitist, exclusionary or guided by one's own time and prejudice) we must defer to the finders. This show champions the taste and esthetics of the collectors more than the makers or the formal art world, but then the collectors and curators represented here have expanded those boundaries consistently for a long time. More than most shows, this one appears to show most of all that art is in the eye of the observer more than any artist.
2012 North Carolina State University Raleigh Gregg Museum of Art and Design (Show runs through December 16, 2012) 64 Pages