Carrying the Torch: Walter Early Sculptures

ImageDenise Furnish and Walter Early: Color Stories Installation View

This is the last weekend to check out the exhibition Denise Furnish and Walter Early: Color Stories. Here on the KMAC blog we have explored the processes, motivations and cultural implications behind Denise Furnish’s repurposed quilts, and now we take a deeper look into the salvaged and reshaped forms from sculptor Walter Early.

Walter Early arranges broken and displaced forms into new settings and new relationships. His work, A Day in May, was included in last summer’s 7 BORDERS exhibition here at KMAC. In that work he repositioned a set of tobacco sticks, removing them from the environment they are typically associated and presented them in the gallery, on a shelf, leaning against a wall. This was intended to give new context, form and meaning to this common tool for curing tobacco leaves. The sticks take on a vista like quality where a viewer can get a sense of looking into a forest or a line of tress along side a road. This idea of play in altering an object’s former meaning continues into Early’s recent sculpture made from clay, wood, MDF, and steel.

For the pieces on display at KMAC Early sourced his materials from fellow sculptors, who had thrown out some of their failed experiments intending for them to be melted down and destroyed. Taking his welding torch and working in a similar twentieth century modernist language as Anthony Caro and John Chamberlain, he manipulates the shape, color and volume of his metal castaways. Once the desired form is achieved he power coats the surfaces of his sculptures in bright, bold, monochromatic colors. Caro and Chamberlain are well known for pushing the formalist art boundaries of modernist sculpture. They are important in the context of Walter’s work as they both represent the shift that allowed for a broader range of materials and practices to be brought into the art discourse. Early furthers the objectives set forth by these artists, maintaining the relevance for the appropriation of found materials. Through a series of rigorous alterations Early presents anew these remnants from other artists, providing a narrative for the material as it moves from its previous state into its new form. After reworking the borrowed metal he reverses a pivotal move made by Caro, who famously removed sculpture from it’s plinth, and places the finished works onto pedestals, or in this case onto whitewashed pieces of furniture, reestablishing the previously abandoned forms as artworks, elevating them to a new domesticated status.

My Neighbor the Artist

Written by KMAC Donors’ Circle Member  Merrily Orsini

Denise Mucci Furnish used to be my neighbor across the street. Before she was a known artist, she was an innate artist. Apparently born as such, she was encouraged by life’s experiences to make art whenever possible. I have a vague memory of meeting Denise, or at least seeing her work, as far back as 1970, when, in Lexington, I saw some cloth dolls she had made. Occasionally, these dolls still haunt my mind. They were ethereal dolls with little bound cloth bodies and round sock faces— beautiful dolls, and dolls that seemed to scream, “Let me out!”

It was a few years later, in 1979, that I ended up on Everett Avenue, across the street from the Furnishes. In 1980, Denise started attending the Louisville School of Art. Her quilts morphed from folded,piles on the top floor of her one time elegant and gabled three-story house, to hanging on the wall, as art. It was a bit later, in 1984 that I purchased my very first original piece of art, Salute to the Sun (Eclipse), from a real gallery. It was the first official piece of art that Denise ever sold. This quilt, made lovingly by Denise Mucci Furnish, still hangs proudly and emphatically, at the entrance to our home. I still enjoy it daily, if not hourly, and it is still as poignant as it was that first time when I was drawn to purchase it, even though it was well beyond my means at the time. However, that quilt is priceless when it comes to the enjoyment and the memories it evokes.

The years between 1980 and 1985 were some of the most interesting years as I watched an artist come into her own. The Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 somehow consumed the artist across the street. There were many variations in her artistic obsession with Mount St. Helens. One of the most interesting, and, a variation of which I have now framed in my office for daily viewing, is making little volcanoes out of dryer lint. The dryer lint is screen filtered into a circular doughnut shape with a small hole in the middle. When dissected into fourths, it makes perfect little volcanoes. A housewife might see dryer lint as something to be cleaned from the filer and tossed, but not the artist. The artist sees opportunity. The artist sees possibility. The artist sees.

Note the color of the lint? It differs according to what is being dried—reds,colors, or denim. The texture also differs, and that is what the artist saw. Try tossing feathers in the dryer and see what happens (not to the poor unsuspecting clothes, but to the lint filter art fodder residue?) What about glitter? It is really amazing how much art can come from a common household dryer when seen through the eyes of the artist. And, those volcanic lint quilts and collages got better and better, more colorful, and more textured, until the eventual end of that dryer. And, for the artist? Another medium to explore with one exhausted.

A life making art. A life enjoying art. Are these two so far apart? I think they are. The artist has a special way of looking at life, interpreting it, finding ways to use common items or common visuals as art. That interpretation, of course, is not what the viewer, or the art collector understands, even when articulated succinctly by the artist. Because, as everyone knows, art is in the eye of the beholder. But the joy, sorrow, jubilation, and emotion are resident as well in the viewer of the art, and, it is this emotion that moves one to enjoy art, to buy art.

Denise Furnish & Walter Early: Color Stories is on view through March 16.

Denise Furnish on KMAC Radio

Tune into ArtFm Louisville for the KMAC radio hour today at 11am to hear Denise Furnish discuss her work currently on display in the museum. She will talk about her ongoing series of painting experiments inspired  by the use of discarded quilts. The discussion will address artist Robert Rauschenberg’s own use of a quilt in the “combine” Bed from 1955 and how this work became a direct influence on Furnish’s work. Image

Denise Furnish, Blue, 2005, 73″ x 68″ Discarded Catch Me If You Can Quilt, acrylic

The significance of the American quilt is bound to our nation’s pioneering history and is situated in a craft tradition that celebrates the ingenuity and collaborative spirit of early American women. After making new clothes for the family, quilting groups would convene to transform their remnants into uniquely patterned bedspreads and baby blankets. Furnish is inspired by this history and through her evolving process of reviving quilts that have been used as dog beds or thrown out due to being threadbare and worn she preserves the conversations that were had during the original communal construction of her fabric painting surfaces. The voices of the women and their care and concern for those around them is radiated and brought back into the foreground due to her use of bold, vibrant colors. Her process could be seen as a kind of repairing technique or decorative bandaging where the new surface becomes the focus and the craft is one of preservation and/or protection. The original fabric is covered forever, but it’s now safeguarded always there beneath the layers retaining its rich, storied past.

The current exhibition at KMAC called Color Stories combines Furnish’s work with a series of sculptures by Walter Early, who likewise fuses contemporary conceptual art practices that explore issues of consumption, waste, and identity with the challenges of modern art aesthetics surrounding form, color and production.

Listen in today for more info on this exhibit and enjoy some music selections inspired by the work.

Adventures of a Museum Intern

Hannah George

My name is Hannah Ensign-George and for the month of January I have been interning at the museum with Director Aldy Milliken. As a junior art history and religion double major at Centre College in Danville, having an opportunity to work at KMAC has been wonderful. Because of KMAC’s smaller size my internship has encapsulated multiple facets of museum life from being the public face of the museum down at the front desk to solving the puzzle of packing the materials from the Eero Saarinen show for shipment.

Putting My Best Face Forward- sitting at the front desk is an opportunity to interact with the public and get a sense for why people visit the museum. Some visit because they were walking past and the exhibit caught their eye. Others have been planning to come to the exhibit since hearing about it. Another duty of the desk is to answer the telephone, which is always interesting. Telephone calls are another form of interaction just as important as greeting someone when they come in the front door. I found the first few calls to be nerve-wracking, but once I figured out a system that worked for me, they were a breeze. Still that didn’t stop me from nearly jumping out of my skin when the phone rang; it rings really loudly.

Valuable Research- when preparing for a new exhibit: research begins months in advance and doesn’t end until the exhibit is over. Each piece a curator plans to show has to have extensive background information to explain how it fits into the central idea or theme. Sometimes connections between pieces don’t become clear until more is known about their history and their creators. When I was researching for an upcoming show, Press, I found a wealth of information about the printing industry here in Kentucky. There is a remarkable printing press community in this state, from Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky to King’s Library Press at the University of Kentucky. Connections can then be made from these press businesses to William Morris’ Baskerville Press in late 19th responsible for initiating the private press movement. Without research these types of connections wouldn’t be made.

It Pays to Get Out- museums depend on generous grants from a variety of government organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts. In order to keep museums funded elected officials must be kept aware of issues regarded the arts. This is done by bringing them into the museum and developing strong relationships. Part of my work was contacting state senators and representatives in preparation for 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky. Arts Day in KY is organized by the Kentucky Arts Council to bring together people with their political leaders. Awareness days like this help to foster a community between the elected officials and the organizations whose interests they work to promote. On the national level museums must strongly advocate for their importance with members of Congress, to ensure funding continues, but also to help promote museums as a vitally important industry.

KY Arts day

KMAC Director Aldy Milliken and KMAC intern Hannah E. Ensign-George in Frankfort to attend 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky

Pack it Up, Ship it Out- one of the most exciting times in my internship was packing a closed exhibit for shipment. It was also the most exhausting part because of the manual labor and planning involved, but handling art that you have only looked at is an exhilarating experience. After the pieces have been taken down they have to be carefully wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is the unsung hero of the wrapping process. Then the tricky part arrives: arranging the carefully packaged pieces into their crates. This part becomes an intense Tetris game, with very expensive and fragile blocks. All of the difficulty is forgotten when you look at a well packed crate and know that you solved the puzzle; those pieces are not moving an inch. Though the best part is probably when the crates have been picked up and sent on their way to the next museum, and everyone revels in the calm before setting up the next show.

I came to KMAC in an effort to determine if I wanted to pursue museum work as a career. As annoying as the “What are you going to do after college?” questions are, they remind me to think about myself and what I want to do next. After four weeks at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, this seems like a possibility. Museums combine scholarly research with outreach and working with people.And it doesn’t hurt that I get to spend all day surrounded by art; that is definitely awesome!

Read Hannah’s spotlight feature of being an intern on Centre’s Blog.

Folk Art Stories

PierceMLK

Folk art and folk music are kindred spirits. Though different in medium, they each  tell the personal and expressive stories of the self-taught artist.

The upcoming exhibit at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft will feature the folk artist and one of the most important American wood carvers of the twentieth century, Elijah Pierce. The exhibition The Essential Elijah Pierce was organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio and will open to the public on February 1st, which is also the beginning of Black History Month.

Pierce was a renowned African-American wood carver, lay minster and barber whose work was, as Pierce believed, directed by God and his pieces were used to tell various stories of the Bible to all who entered his barber shop.

Pierce also carved secular subjects that were historical in theme. Pictured above is his  work,  Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy Brothers (1977). This piece was purposely chosen today in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Huddie William Ledbetter (d.1949) or Lead Belly from Mooringsport, Louisiana was an American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, his twelve-string guitar, and for introducing the songbook of folk standards.

Featured Lead Belly songs:
Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Jim Crow Blues

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 turns 50 this year. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  The passage of the Act ended the application of the racial segregation laws or “Jim Crow” laws that were enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States.

The Civil Rights Act was championed by John Kennedy and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after JFK’s assassination. JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy was also a strong supporter of civil rights. On May 25, 1961, Robert F. Kennedy delivered an idealistic radio broadcast for Voice of America, defending America’s record on race relations to the rest of the world, insisting that “there is no reason that in the near or the foreseeable future, a Negro could [not] become President of the United States.”

Alan Lomax (1915 – 2002) was one of the great American field collectors of folk music of the 20th century. During the New Deal, he and his father, famed folklorist and collector John A. Lomax recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress on aluminum and acetate discs.

African-American Ballads and Folk Songs

Sonny Terry (1911-1986) was a blind American harmonica blues musician from North Carolina. He was known for his energetic blues harmonica style, which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers.

Featured Sonny Terry songs:
Lost John 

The Sound of Saarinen

arch_from_above by Connor Bell
Arch from above by Connor Bell

On Friday January 10, 2014 KMAC will be host to AUDIOOPTICS #2, the second in an ongoing series of events occurring throughout Louisville that explore the spaces between our auditory and visual experiences of the world. This installment of AUDIOOPTICS consists of three sets of audio / visual pairings from a diverse array of artists. On the program for Friday evening are the Chicago based sound art duo Coppice (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) presenting visuals prepared by Coppice.

The duo has produced original compositions for stage, fixed media, and performed installation settings since 2009. Drawing from their expanding glossary of study, the duo is currently focused on live repertoire with custom instruments, prepared pump organ, and  electronic processes.

Coppice

Coppice

The Louisville duo mAAs (Connor Bell and Tim Barnes) will play to a blueprint of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, the iconic monument to the westward expansion of the United States was built by Finnish American architect and designer Eero Saarinen, the subject of the current KMAC exhibition Eero Saarinen: Reputation for Innovation. When placed into this context Saarinen’s drawing takes on the quality of modern, experimental sheet music. It resembles a waveform, giving shape to the listener’s experience of the music.

Metastaseis (1953-54), mesures 317-333 : graphic by Iannis Xenakis

Metastaseis (1953-54), mesures 317-333 : graphic by Iannis Xenakis

Also performing is local musician, sound artist, and composer R Keenan Lawler with video by Louisville artist Mitchell Bradley. Bradley manipulates images and video from his trips through the outer limits of the city. He and his twin brother Matthew have also collaborated on a series of works that bring together overstocked toys from dollar stores and other items from the clutches of mass production. They have turned these materials into an unusual, yet playfully informed set of installations and sculptures that have been recently exhibited in shows at KMAC, The Speed Art Museum, and I.D.E.A.S. 40203. For over three decades Lawler has explored American Blues music, bluegrass, and rock all filtered through his extensive background in electro-acoustic improvisation. With an intensely focused technique utilizing western music tonalities Lawler works with masses of harmonic overtones and sustained textures using his trademark metal-bodied resonator guitar.

Mitchell Bradley color video still w/ R Keenan Lawler

Mitchell Bradley color video still w/ R Keenan Lawler

 

Bell and Barnes of mAAs sat in during the recent KMAC Hour on ArtFm Louisville to discuss the upcoming AUDIOOPTICS event, providing insight along the way into their creative drives and music making process. Connor Bell began the audiooptics series as a way to more closely examine the transferences that occur when image and sound makers are united. With the set goal of taking a more critical look at the interstices of musical creativity and visual art, these events are set at a distance from the production of typical synchronized music videos and more closely aligned with the intentions of artistic collaborations like the music and dance performances of John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run was choreographed by Cunningham and accompanied by spoken text by Cage. Copyright:  Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike) Rights Held By:  University Musical Society

April 13, 1971, “How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run” choreographed by Cunningham with spoken word accompaniment by Cage.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By: University Musical Society

Beginning in the mid 1950’s Cage and Cunningham set out to dismantle the narrative structures of choreographed dance music and introduced the element of chance between the movements of the dancers and the actions of the musicians, creating a new space for the viewing of performance related artwork that was less about the demonstration of memorization and more concerned with the discovery of uncharted connections between artistic practices.

Barnes has had previous experience combining experimental film and chance music as part of the group Text of Light. Formed in 2001 the group first set out to perform improvised music to the works of Stan Brakhage and other filmmakers. Their express intent was to, “improvise (not ‘illustrate’) to films from the American Avante-Garde (50s-60s etc), an under-known period of American filmic poetics.” Members of the group also include Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht (gtrs/devices), Christian Marclay and DJ Olive (turntables), William Hooker (drums/perc), and Ulrich Krieger (sax/electronics).

mAAs setup

mAAs setup

mAAs creates music using modular analog synthesizers. First developed in the early 1960’s this equipment revolutionized electronic music, allowing for greater ease and portability in combining, composing, performing, and manipulating electronically produced waveforms.  Earlier methods for making similar music required bigger machines and a process known as tape splicing. This was used in an early canonical piece of electronic music, Poème électronique, for tape (1957-1958)  composed by Edgard Varèse. As with the Gateway Arch and mAAs this was  likewise conceived of as a companion piece to the work of an architectural icon. Varèse wrote the piece for the Le Corbusier designed Phillips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

As you prepare your senses for the AUDIOOPTICS experience take with you this quote by art philosopher Susan K. Langer:

“The assignment of meanings [in music] is a shifting, kaleidoscopic play, probably below the threshold of consciousness, certainly outside the pale of discursive thinking. The imagination that responds to music is personal and associative and logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged with dream, butconcerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling.”
― Susanne K. LangerPhilosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Event Details 

Friday, January 10th @ 6pm Doors, 7pm Performance

$6 General Admission | Free For Members

Purchase tickets at the door. Purchase tickets online.

Love By Design: The Saarinen Women

eero and aline
Loja Saarinen, 1932, Cranbrook Archives

Loja Saarinen, 1932, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen’s wife, Loja (Loy-a) was trained as a sculptor, photographer and model builder. She became a textile designer and weaver when Saarinen became the chief architect of the Cranbrook campus located in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The campus consists of Cranbrook Schools, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Cranbrook House and Gardens.

Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Studio Loja Saarinen, Loja (seated), 1930, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Studio Loja Saarinen was established to design and weave textiles, carpets, and rugs on a commission basis for many of the Eliel Saarinen designed buildings on the Cranbrook Campus. Consequently, Loja became the director of the weaving department at Cranbrook from 1929 until her retirement in 1942. At full production, Studio Loja Saarinen held close to 30 hand looms.

Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Kingwood School at Cranbrook, Textile design by Loja Saarinen. 1933, Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Eliel Saarinen began designing his house at Cranbrook in 1928, and he and Loja moved into the completed home in fall 1930. They lived in the house until Eliel’s death in 1950.

Living Room Saarinen House

Living Room Saarinen House

Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.

Swedish weavers making the rug for the Saarinen House.

Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of  Cranbrook Archives

Loja Saarinen showing Eliel a cartoon of their tapestry, Sermon on the Mount, for Tabernacle Church of Christ (now First Christian Church in Columbus, Ind.), 1941. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Marianne Strengell with Loja and Eero Saarinen, 1958. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

In 1942, when Loja Saarinen retired from Cranbrook, Strengell replaced her as head of the Department of Weaving and Textile Design.

Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Aline Saarinen with art book, 1955. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Aline was the associate art editor and critic for the New York Times and recently divorced when she met Eero in 1953.  She was on a trip to Detroit to meet the young architect whose General Motors Technical Center had proved to be a great success. She was to write a profile of Saarinen for the New York Times Magazine, eventually published with the title Now Saarinen the Son authored by Aline B. Louchheim. She would become Aline B. Saarinen a little over a year later.

Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.

Early Art Criticism by Aline (then Bernstein). 1934. Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian.

A look into the intimate correspondence between both Eero Saarinen and Aline Saarinen is available online, digitized by the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian as the Aline and Eero Saarinen Papers, 1906-1977. Their letters track the history of their romance and provide an inside look at how two stars in their respective fields came to be partners.

Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Correspondence from Eero Saarinen to Aline, 1954. Courtesy of the Smithsonian.

After their marriage, Aline relocated to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she continued to work as associate art critic for The New York Times and where she served as Director of Information Service in the office of Eero Saarinen and Associates (from 1954 to 1963). They had a son and named him Eames after Eero’s long time friend Charles Eames.

Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library

Eero, Aline, and Eames. Courtesy of Yale University Library

After Eero’s sudden death in 1961, she and Saarinen’s longtime partners Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo traveled around the country, making sure the firm’s nine commissions under construction or in design (including the TWA Terminal, Dulles Airport, two residential colleges for Yale, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the CBS Building) were all completed as Saarinen buildings. In 1962, she published a book of his writings, including black-and-white photographs of his projects, Eero Saarinen on His Work. This book is currently on display at KMAC as part of the Eero Saarinen A Reputation for Innovation exhibit.

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