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Here's the Thing at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York

May 21, 2008
KATONAH.- The Katonah Museum of Art presents Here's the Thing: The Single Object Still Life, an exhibition that celebrates single objects, their close-up beauty, mystery, and the one-on-one relationship, even the psychological involvement, that each artist reveals in depicting such solitary items. "Every Eye sees differently," wrote William Blake, "As the Eye - such the Object." Curated by acclaimed photorealist painter and printmaker Robert Cottingham, the exhibition includes over 60 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints, created between the late 19th century and present, including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns; it runs through June 29.
Richard Diebenkorn, Scissors, 1959. Oil on canvas. 10 1/2 x 13 inches. Collection of Richard Grant and Gretchen Diebenkorn Grant.

Here's the Thing asks questions; it inspires nostalgia. The single objects featured are familiar everyday, man-made items: packaged goods, household appliances, utensils, prepared food, furniture, apparel, hardware, building materials, and tools. It's the thing you remember from your childhood, or that simple object you never took the time to notice, and now that you do, it's not so simple after all. A prime example is Shimon Okshteyn's graphite drawing Iron, in which his super-sized appliance reveals an abstraction pattern of the collected scratches, stains, and scorches it has accrued over the years.

"There are myriad reasons why an artist might choose a particular object," says Cottingham, "but often, the choice is based simply on convenience, and the appeal of an object close at hand." He suspects that Richard Diebenkorn's Scissors depict a tool in the artist's studio, now transformed from "object" to "subject." David Park's Sink is another example of selection by convenience and familiarity. "I'm going to guess that the industrial sink depicted by Park actually occupied a corner of his studio," Cottingham says. "In fact, my romantic leanings permit me to imagine the artist, upon completing this work, cleaning his brushes at its very subject."

Organic "things" here have all undergone some process of commercial alteration; they have been shrink-wrapped, foil-wrapped, or baked in preparation for the market place. Janet Fish's early painting, Box of Four Red Apples, points clearly toward her career-long passion for color and its interplay with light. In Emily Eveleth's oil painting, Tight, a portrait of a jelly doughnut, is delivered at heroic scale, its subtext a confection of human desires, both culinary and carnal.

"Robert Cottingham has done a masterful curatorial job of guiding us to works of art that depict just the right thing-ness of the objects chosen, and beg for a dialogue between viewer and artist," says Neil Watson, Executive Director of the Katonah Museum of Art.

Most evident in the exhibition is the conceptual diversity of the artists. From the trompe l'oeil precision of John Haberle's Twenty Dollar Bill to the delicacy and intimacy of Gunter Grass's Mit Brille Neuerdings (Eye Glasses), to the structural monumentality of Donald Sultan's Domino, June 8, 1990, each work reveals the unique philosophical leanings of its creator.

Emerging from the exhibition is the range of conceptual approaches to the single object. Two of the artists, for instance, work directly on the objects themselves: Arman saws his violin into sections, and Christo binds his coffee table art book in heavy plastic. Destruction and concealment become strategies of provocation.

Cottingham's own recent still lifes of cameras and typewriters reflect his fascination with the everyday object as the subject for art. His oil painting Spartus Full-Vue appears in Here's the Thing; he has also curated A Fine Line: Drawings by National Academicians at the National Academy of Design in 2003-04.

Some of the other artists featured are Robert Arneson, Richard Artschwager, Donald Baechler, Claudio Bravo, Jim Dine, Tom Friedman, Red Grooms, Philip Guston, Robert Lazzarini, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Don Nice, Tom Otterness, and Wayne Thiebaud.

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