All posts in “architecture”

Object of the Week: Dog Hedge

The teapot is a centuries-old vessel whose origins are firmly rooted in China. Features of the teapot have evolved over time, depending on the culture and period, but for the most part the vessel is a straightforward formula with certain basic elements: a spout, a handle, a lid, and, of course, a container for hot water. Tried and tested, right? Enter Peter Shire.

For decades, Los Angeles-based Shire has worked at the intersection of fine art, craft, and industrial design, experimenting with a variety of mediums and methods to produce iconic ceramic works and furniture that challenge the modernist maxim “form follows function,” first coined by American architect Louis Sullivan. The form of this ceramic teapot, titled Dog Hedge, does not immediately align with its understood function. In fact, many of Shire’s teapots (an ongoing and touchstone series in his practice), don’t pour tea properly—they are objects meant to be looked at. In the words of the artist, they are “referentially functional.”

One of the original members (and first American) of the 1980s Italian design collective Memphis Group, Shire has proven himself a master of surfaces and mimicry. Interested in the plasticity of materials such as clay, he approaches his practice with playful rigor. In this 1982 work, orange, lime green, and red geometric shapes overlap with rectilinear planes of speckled pink and blue to form a postmodern constructivist composition. The various ceramic components balance precariously, testing the limits of the teapot’s utility.

For this work, Shire found inspiration in such diverse sources as Stonehenge, aqueducts, post and beam architecture of the 1950s, the architecture of Luis Barragán, and the “anthropomorphic qualities of the [teapot’s] spout as a mouth and the lid as eyes.” In Shire’s hands, the teapot—as both an object and an idea—becomes deconstructed and reimagined on his own personal, conceptual, and architectural terms. Appearing from one angle as a dog in profile, the piece’s title also references Stonehenge—a monument whose unclear use and construction no doubt finds a parallel in Shire’s own work.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Dog Hedge, 1982, Peter Shire, ceramic with glaze, 9 1/2 x 14 x 9 1/2 in., Gift of Anne Gould Hauberg, 86.138 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Lumber-Made Listening

Theaster Gates’ Listening Stools, one of the sculptural forms in the exhibit The Listening Room, have helped transform SAM’s Knight-Lawrence Gallery into an open space for music and ideas. Their design may be simple and made from recycled wood, coming from the floorboards of a Chicago police station, but the stools invite visitors to sit, relax, and engage with the art, music and each other. They often lead guests to converse about a record they’re currently holding, and I can’t say how many people have learned to play their first 33 1/3” vinyl record on a turn table while sitting in one of these modest wooden chairs.

Although his artistic training is in ceramics Gates’ sculpted pieces for The Listening Room draw from his seemingly endless resources using recycled lumber as a medium that allows him to transcend artistic traditions and place focus on social engagement through discarded materials-come-art. The Listening Stools are one of these unlikely art objects carrying a history in their structure. Other lumber materials present in the exhibit are the ware board record crates (see below), the original sandwich board from Dr. Wax’s record store made to look like a Japanese Shoji screen, and the entirely recycled wood deejay table faced with a carved wooden altar screen sourced from a defunct Chicago church.

Another example of Gates’ material repurposing is his Temple Exercises (2009) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which constructed a temple-like structure from modular ware boards from the abandoned Wrigley Gum factory in the heart of Chicago. This became a site for spiritual exercises and performance by groups such as Gates’ own ensemble,  the Black Monks of Mississippi. The same Wrigley ware boards are used in the Listening Room for the record crates that accompany the turntable in the middle of the gallery in which visitors are invited to peruse records and listen in on headphones at any time during museum hours.

“I’m one person,” says Gates, “one whole person who thinks about friendship and neighborliness and God as much as I think about object making.”[1] His chairs achieve the sense of transformation that Gates’ work self-consciously seeks to convey. Inherent in this transformation is the vinyl vertebrae lining the back wall of the gallery: Dr. Wax’s Record Archive. Entering the gallery for the first time viewers are perhaps not expecting to see a long shelf of records and deejay table. Set into the back wall Dr. Wax’s records are joined with the musical sounds that can be heard emanating from the gallery before visitors even enter the space. They are immediately faced with the aural and visual qualities of this kinesthetic installation and find themselves asking the question “How do I engage with this art?” By the time visitors reach the Listening Stools, they have intoned through osmosis the intertwining themes of music, history, politics, and space that are addressed by the exhibit. It is the music’s audio ability to communicate cultural, political, and artistic history to a public willing and able to engage that brings meaning to the lumber-made objects present in the gallery and comes full circle to connect the archive of cultural knowledge to its listeners.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern 


[1] Art In America, December 2011, p. 126

Last photo: SAM patrons Faye Peterson and Mike O’Brien browsing records in the Listening Room. Photograph by author. JPEG file.

 

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