MASS assembly is an exhibition that presents the work of four New Jersey artists who have taken mass-produced, discarded materials and transformed them into artworks that provide commentary and reflections on our materialistic, consumer-oriented society.
STUFF—it’s everywhere…in our attics, garages, basements. What house doesn’t have a junk drawer crammed so full it only opens halfway? Closets overflowing with so much STUFF the door barely closes? If you are an artist, people give you STUFF constantly, and you also have gathered plenty on your own. From the curb, your neighbor’s trash, the salvage yard, garage sales – the promise of more good STUFF is always lurking around the next corner. Like crows drawn to that irresistible shiny object, artists stash bottles, toys, keys, cards, machine parts…in some big nest of a studio or shed or living space to be transformed in ways that give us an ‘Ah-Ha! So that’s what you can do with those!’ moment.
In our mass-produced, throw-away society, mixed media artists are the ultimate recyclers, living in a world of endless art supplies. MASS assembly is an exhibition that presents the work of four New Jersey artists who have taken mass-produced, discarded materials and transformed them into artworks that provide commentary and reflections on our materialistic, consumer-oriented society.
Willie Cole, a sculptor and conceptual artist from Denville, is known for assembling and transforming everyday objects. For this exhibition, he has taken the lowly, ubiquitous water bottle (over 2000 of them to be exact) and literally elevated it over our heads to a level on a par with the Buddha. All those Poland Springs bottles now glow down on us as we gaze up in wonder, searching for enlightenment.
Walking into Donna Payton’s studio in Millstone Township, one will find six or seven projects concurrently in progress. Piles of wreath forms, tomato cages, and spools are being painted, wired, strung, glued or burned into bright, colorful sculptures that completely transcend their lowly beginnings. These chosen materials are her medium, as valuable as plaster, paint or bronze. The viewer stands before her work and experiences a strange sense of familiarity, but has to work to find out why. If you remember playing the game ‘Mouse Trap,’ Donna’s work will make you feel right at home.
In Andy Epstein’s work, you might find yourself looking for the ‘on’ button or the wind-up key. One expects the Princeton artist’s work to begin clanging to life with balls rolling, gears churning, toy hands waving, but instead this is left to your imagination. His work is expected to animate but how lovely it is to get a break, to just get lost in a sort of film “still” and appreciate the composition, color, and incorporation of re-used objects.
Artist Valerie Young, from Hopewell, is a self-taught sculptor who lives among her many treasures. An entire room is full of Jane West, Superman, and Mr. T figures waiting to be used in her next tableau. Her culturally iconic materials begin a new narrative when placed in an unexpected conversation with other objects.
So, the next time you lug your garbage or recycling can – your discarded STUFF – to the curb, or toss out an old bike, you may ultimately find the front wheel attached to the seat of a wooden stool, or a water bottle glowing with an encased figure. And, you can feel proud that you are a patron of the arts.
Maria Evans, Artistic Director, Arts Council of Princeton