Material Matters


Oldenburg/van Bruggen, Paradise Pies (II and VI)—VI, 5/6 Red, 2009, cast aluminum painted with acrylic, 6 3/8 × 13 1/4 × 9 1/2″. Edition of 6 (cast 5 of 6). © 2020 Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

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Material Matters
April 7 – April 21, 2020
Online Viewing Room

Pace Gallery presents Material Matters, an online exhibition examining the role of materiality in artistic expression. 

Curated by Andria Hickey, Senior Director and Curator, in collaboration with Joe Baptista, Vice President, and Danielle Forest, Executive Assistant, this presentation highlights the physical, formal, and symbolic transformations of material experimentation and the ways material choices provide the tools for artists to disrupt expectation, shape meaning, and embody symbolic content. Spanning over sixty years of making, it includes works by Lynda Benglis, Tara Donovan, DRIFT, Lee Ufan, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Robert Rauschenberg, Arlene Shechet, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Richard Tuttle, and Yin Xiuzhen. 

Works by Benglis, Ufan, Shechet, and Tuttle point to a relationship between materiality, alchemy, and impulse. The role that material plays in an intuitive response to form and composition can be seen in Lynda Benglis’s circular hand-wrought “Elephant Necklaces,” Lee Ufan’s terracotta tabletop ruins, and Richard Tuttle’s It looks different Yeah, it does look different (2018), a wall piece made of wire and air-dried ceramic that continues the artist’s engagement with the subtleties of perception. 

In other instances, material choices—seen in works by Yin Xuizhen and Song Dong—offer a symbolic language engaged in social and economic contexts. Yin Xiuzhen’s series “Ceremonial Instruments,” made of glazed ceramic interspersed with secondhand clothing, eschews the fine craftsmanship of classical Chinese porcelain for structures that depict a kind of industrial rubble. By embedding used clothing, the artist inextricably ties the works to the personal and the collective. Similarly, Rauschenberg’s Quorum (Unions) (1975) incorporates raw materials like paper pulp, ground tamarind seed, and copper sulfate that the artist found while collaborating with workers from a local paper mill in Ahmadabad, India, where he was working at the time. The resulting “rag-mud” and rope structure, made of materials similar to those used to build homes in the region, makes manifest the social and cultural context of the place in which the work was made. 

The unexpected rises out of everyday materials in works by Donovan and the collaborators Oldenburg and van Bruggen. Through very different approaches, these artists change our perspective of familiar objects and their uses, altering our perception of the world around us. Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s Valentine Perfume (1999) depicts the waft of an oversized perfume bottle being sprayed into the air while Tara Donovan’s use of Slinkys engages in a formal dialogue with light and space that transforms the identity of the manufactured material itself. 

The intrinsic qualities and meanings of fabricated objects and materials are examined by artists Song Dong and DRIFT through methods of construction and deconstruction, respectively. Song’s sculpture Usefulness of Uselessness No.8 (2013–2015)—a polygon form composed of salvaged ornamental and utilitarian housing materials—constructs new meaning out of these discarded materials that draws on notions of labor and class in the artist’s childhood home of Beijing. DRIFT’S iPhone 4s (2018) depicts a deconstructed iPhone 4s as an arrangement of blocks, each corresponding to the mass of raw material found in the phone. Visualizing this common device as a collection of blocks—in various states of color, density, opacity, and surface quality—refocuses our attention on the essential materials that make up its existence and makes visible the growing disparity between humans and the natural systems to which we are bound. 

Resonating with our current state of physical immediacy and digital collectiveness, Material Matters expresses the  necessity of examining material and process to understand the ways in which artists disrupt common perceptions of the everyday, shape meaning, and create anew. The exhibition will be on view beginning April 7 through April 21, 2020.

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