Reconfiguring and Recontextualizing Materials Tour

In the early years of the twentieth century, artist Pablo Picasso revolutionized the way sculpture was made. In contrast to the traditional methods of carving stone or casting bronze, he took sheets of paper and cardboard, folded and glued them, and then threaded them together with string and wire. His Guitar (1912) was the first “assembled” sculpture. Since then, subsequent artists have used materials from all aspects of life—items as small and insignificant as discarded rubbish and scrap metal or as large and specific as industrial construction components. The “subtractive” manner of producing sculpture—that is, taking an unworked material like marble and chiseling away to create a figure—gave way to an “additive” process.

Many artists in the Landmarks collection work in this additive manner. Though the work they create is varied, these artists employ similar strategies of reconfiguring and recontextualizing the materials they utilize. The artists Beth Campbell, Mark di Suvero, Sarah Oppenheimer, and Beverly Pepper each take industrial materials and reconfigure them into abstract forms. The use of materials in this manner creates an opportunity to consider the unexpected visual experiences and symbolic meanings generated by works of art.

Some of the artists involved in recontextualizing materials repurpose an existing object of practical and everyday use, like the wooden crutches used by Michael Ray Charles or the metal canoes used by Nancy Rubins, and present them in an entirely new context. Artists Simone Leigh and Marc Quinn take cultural artifacts as their starting point—in Leigh’s case an African ceremonial utensil, and for Quinn, a seashell specimen from the Natural History Museum in London—and transform them into new stylized sculptures ripe with metaphorical meaning.