Review by Sean Quinn
The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the way people live, forcing them to become more resourceful as they adapt to the chaotic new normal of homeschooling, virtual meetings and online shopping. But for many artists, rethinking the way things are typically done is a normal part of their process. They’re used to the “make-do” spirit the pandemic has forced upon the world, creating beautiful art out of the most unusual items they find around them. And now they’re getting the chance to display these extraordinary works thanks to the West Orange Arts Council.
L to R: Nina Cioppettini, Carol Black-Lemon (Curator) and Aron Aron Lifschultz
Participating Artists: Virginia Block, Nina Cioppettini, Maria Estrela, Rona Goldfarb, Ellen Hark, Kathleen Heron, Mary Howe, Carol Jenkins, Cansuela Lawrence, Aron Lifschultz, Modern Fossils: Judith Marchand and David P. Horowitz, Frank Niccoletti, Amelia Panico, Jennifer Place, Danielle Scott, Georgia Varidakis, Alexandra Vasconcelos, and Ann Vollum.
“Objet Trouve: An Exhibit of Found Objects” — the council’s latest show that’s running both virtually on the WOAC website and in-person at the West Orange Arts Center through Feb. 27 — showcases unique pieces crafted from items one would not normally think of as having artistic value. From a turtle made out of old computer parts to a face assembled using broken china, the exhibit contains a multitude of works designed to catch viewers off guard and change their perspective on the world around them.
At the same time, curator Carol Black-Lemon said she hopes “Objet Trouve” also inspires people to make some creations of their own.
“I think it’s going to spark their interest and imagination,” Black-Lemon said. “Art is a great way to express yourself, and ‘Objet Trouve’ in particular shows you can add value to things people maybe don’t think much about. It shows you can have some fun, look at things a little differently and think twice about throwing something out. There’s beauty all around us.”
Black-Lemon certainly knows the artistic potential of everyday items. Though she is primarily a fine art painter, the curator said she loves to create found object art and thought such work would make for a great WOAC exhibit. So, after getting the green light to curate the exhibit, she put out a call for artists with work in this field and selected the most imaginative submissions.
In the end Black-Lemon wound up with an eclectic mix of pieces from as far as Florida, ranging in size from tiny tabletop works to a “tree branch” that takes up much of one wall. The motivations behind each work vary greatly, as well. For instance, Mary Howe created “Earth Nest” in response to the 2020 wildfires that burned millions of acres in California and other parts of the world. Other artists preferred to let their materials be their muse, drawing inspiration from their supplies rather than fitting the supplies into a preconceived design.
For David Horowitz and Judith Marchand, the motive of their art is clear — environmental awareness. The duo, who creates under the name Modern Fossils, assemble nature-inspired pieces using objects they find in Delaware River cleanups and donated materials that would have otherwise been thrown away. These works are provocative and interesting to look at, but Horowitz and Marchand said they are not just meant to be appreciated aesthetically. Their true purpose is to educate people on the need to reuse and recycle at a time when corporations mass-produce unnecessary items like single-serving food packages.
“People look at all our pieces with so much waste in all of them and they’ll say, ‘How did you find all this?’ Marchand, whose work with Horowitz includes the aforementioned “Techno Turtle” and “Tree Branch,” said. “You just have to walk around and look down. It’s all there. People don’t realize how much pollution there is and how much the environment is really hurting. We really need to act to save the planet. And our work makes the problem more real than just saying ‘Don’t litter.’”
Ellen Hark definitely knows art’s power to educate. Hark was an art teacher for 35 years, during which time she regularly had her students incorporate found objects into their projects as a means of supplementing her meager art supply budget. Now that she’s retired, the artist-educator is focusing on her own 3-D works using materials she finds or collects from others. Her contribution to “Objet Trouve,” a series of mosaic faces she calls “Doing Dishes,” came about after friends gave her a windfall of broken plates and cups.
Each of her three pieces on display is meant to make viewers happy, which is something she said is needed during this difficult time. The works certainly put a smile on Hark’s own face, and the process of making them made her feel even better. Considering all the stress of the COVID-19 era, Hark acknowledged it is nice to have a creative outlet to help her cope.
“It’s been very therapeutic,” Hark said. “It’s good to get lost in the art and the art-making. It’s so cathartic. It’s a way for me to get out of the refrigerator and express myself in a creative way.”
Ann Vollum’s work for the exhibit was also a reaction to today’s stressful times — though she didn’t realize it in the moment. So it was only after she finished making her “Brain Fog” installation — a series of talismans consisting of items like fabric and sticks stitched together — that she noticed the pieces seemingly represented the “tangled thoughts” she and many others are currently experiencing.
Likewise, she said “The Pants They Wore” — a piece made of shredded, knotted black jeans embellished with wool stitching, buttons and other items — was also influenced by current events.
“The work was definitely very affected by my mental state from the pandemic and the political angst that we’ve been going through,” Vollum said. “The black and the dark colors reflect mourning, and the shredding reflects how we’re all very tattered and torn right now no matter which way you think politically. We’re very shredded as people, but the knots and the embellishment are little symbols of hope that we can hold on to.”
Amelia Panico’s four pieces in “Objet Trouve” are also highly symbolic. For instance, items like the doll parts and butterfly collected in “Faith” are meant to evoke her memories of girlhood. But for Panico, the joy of creating found object art does not lie solely in creating hidden meanings. She said she really just loves working with her hands, finding it to be a healthy counterbalance to the hours she spends in the dark room as a professional photographer.
Panico hopes those who check out the exhibit” feel compelled to try found object art, too. As she pointed out, one does not need to be a professional artist or possess the usual art supplies to create impactful work. “Objet Trouve” proves that.
“People should see this for sheer inspiration,” Panico said. “I hope they’ll start to see things a little differently and start to value what maybe they didn’t see as valuable before and add to their creative repertoire. Anyone can do art like this.”
Those interested in “Objet Trouve: An Exhibit of Found Objects” can view the virtual gallery at www.woarts.org. People can also experience the show in-person by visiting the West Orange Arts Center, though appointments are required to ensure social distancing. To reserve your time, email firstname.lastname@example.org.