Another emphasis very present throughout the American Dreamers exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi is the emphasis on craft. With the exception of 2 or 3 artists, there is a major emphasis on the artist’s hand being directly involved in creating their pieces. Jeff Koons, Julie Mehertu, Kehinde Wiley (Yeah I said it!!) and all the other artists for the past umpteen hundred years who have had massive workshops are not included in this exhibition. With the American Dream and its futility still a basis for American Dreamers, imagination runs rampant with the crafty ones and in some cases, does not necessarily align with the overall concept of the show. For instance, Mandy Greer creates site specific special installations from discarded fabrics and clothing accessories such as buttons, ribbons, beads, feathers and various other materials. Greer created a series of chandelier shaped sculptures that hang from the ceiling and are randomly connected with strands of fabrics, beads, etc. Displayed in a narrow gallery, the viewer can enter through either end. At one end of the gallery there are sculptures that are a direct reference to the moon and stars, made of buttons, felt, ribbon and hot glue. If the viewer continues along this path, they zig zag through the series of hanging sculptures that range in various colors of green, brown and blue. At the end of the gallery is a large sparkling gold sculpture that Greer obviously took much more time creating than the previous sculptures. It is precise in every button, rhinestone, and ribbon. It literally sparkles. A friend traveling with me stated, “ It seems that what Greer was trying to accomplish in the other sculptures she accomplished in this one… so why are the others necessary?” Seriously, the big sparkling gold object was that good that it made you question the others. And then I see it! The Didactic Placard that every person in desperate need of an explanation runs to like a fire extinguisher in a burning building! Lo and behold the placard reads that the installation is “path between two realms that she defines as two “heavens” through a transitory dimension, which is represented by the natural world. The title of the new work refers to the name of a nymph who, according to one version of the myth, nursed Zeus who then transformed her into the brightest star in the sky.” What?! Are you serious?! And how does this Greek mythology tie into the American Dream and its non existence?
All in all I had a few issues with Greer’s work:
1) The influence of Petah Coyne and Terrance Koh is incredibly evident. It is so evident that I walked out of the gallery thinking about them versus Greer.
2) I question the use of hot glue and household items that have no connection to “mythological worlds of Shamanism and Native American Traditions”. This creates a disconnect in the concept of her work as well as the concept of the exhibition…in my opinion
Greer wasn’t the only crafty one! Kirsten Hassenfeld created stars out of wrapping and stationary paper and Christy Rupp created skeletal models of species that were consumed to extinction by mankind. Using steel and chicken bones, Rupp‘s models are very reminiscent of a Natural History Museum in terms of lighting, display and installation. What changes the sculpture from being “models” is the use of chicken bones. The consumption of animals to extinction is in direct relation to American’s consumption of chicken. One is simply replacing the other, only to be seen again in Natural History Museums with our children. Rupp also created a series of collage pieces that function in the same way as her sculptures. She layered various pieces of paper that referenced different aspects of birds. For instance there was a very decorative page that emphasized the beauty in the wings and the gracefulness of birds in flight. Layered ontop was a map of a chicken coop or the skeletal system of a chicken. Very interesting but how does this tie into the American Dream and Imagination? OR is this simply propaganda?
The craftsy artists of American Dreamers seemed to be the most problematic for me. At the end of the day work was not made well, it was incredibly literal, and did not fit into the concept of the show. With that being said, in my next blog I will highlight the artists that created work tight in concept and in line with the overall idea of the show.