“Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design,” at the Museum of Art and Design in Columbus Circle explores the use of otherwise impermanent or ignored materials as a medium. The artists in the exhibition use dirt as paint, ash as molding material, and spun dust to create fragile sculptures.
Artist Zhang Huan often uses the ash from incense burned in Buddhist temples in his work. Cast into sculptures of busts and religious figures, Huan loves the impermanence of the material. As time passes, the sculptures gradually deteriorate, as the ash softens and returns to the air.
The delicately spun skull in the exhibition is made from a material we are all familiar with- household dust! The artist, Paul Hazelton, gathers his materials from actual places around the house- furniture, hanging pictures, and in corners. Using water, he is able to mold the dust into unique sculptures.
“Murder” is the name of Maskull Lasserre’s installation of black crow sculptures. The blackened sculptures are made from burned wood. The charred wood material refers to the artist’s title for the piece, turning a dead material into sculpture. Renditions of vultures would only be more appropriate.
The grid of organized rocks and dirt seem more like a geological display than art. Designed by Margaret Boozer, the piece, “Correlation Drawing/Drawing Correlations,” is a sample of dirt from the five boroughs, organized into complex maps of their origin location and strata.
Los Angeles resident Kim Abeles challenges the idea of smog in her city. When hearing many of her contemporaries calling the condition to be just fog, she decided to put it to the test, by creating art from smog. Abeles lays items on her roof, sometimes for weeks or months, and lets the smog do its work, leaving stencils of evidence.
Like the tradition of building ships inside a bottle, artist Jim Dingilian etches meticulously detailed tableaus inside of empty liquor bottles. The artist first smokes out the insides, then using a brush, pulls away charred pieces to reveal scenes like power lines, streams and old cars.
The room-sized “Persistence of Modernism” is an entire office of cast dirt figures by James Croak. The trench-coated man rises from the floor of dirt – or is he crumbling into it? The clocks along the wall bring to mind the idea that time is money, and thus that we working drones plug away until we return to dust.
Dirt is used in possibly the most artful way by Catherine Bertola. The artist is known for her subtractive pieces- where she removes dirt from buildings to create images and patterns. For the Museum of Art and Design, she created an imperial patterned wallpaper, made entirely from dust and dirt, challenging our thoughts on what comprises beauty and design.
The underrated Museum of Art and Design does it again with this incredible show, showing that it can turn dirt to beauty.
Images by Lori Zimmer for Inhabitat