LINCOLN, NE.- The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery presents today Anxious Objects, Willie Cole's Favorite Brands, 1988-2006, on view through December 17, 2006. New Jersey has been Willie Coles home since his birth there in 1955. His art reflects the urban dichotomies of modern America: a vast consumer culture fueled by economic wealth showcased in glittering malls, and in sharp contrast, the industrial wastelands, poverty and ethnic racial and political discord.
While Coles urban and African-American heritages have remained primary influences, his artwork has become increasing multicultural and universal. Anxious Objects: Willie Coles Favorite Brands, organized by Patterson Sims of Montclair Art Museum, is the first survey of Coles work from the late 1980s to the present.
Beginning with an artist residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1988-1989, the period when his artistic vision matured, Cole has assembled artifacts from a throwaway culture irons, ironing boards, hair dryers, high-heeled shoes, lawn jockeys, and other discarded materials into iconic artworks.
He uses these found items to create art laden with metaphorical meanings, reflecting his distinctive urban experience. In some of his works, he turns Western objects into forms and motifs derived from African tribal art.
In an essay included in the exhibition catalog, Sims wrote, When turned into art, Coles consumer and domestic objects . . . are effectively disguised and displaced. They assume the appearance of objects from another time, culture or place. Plastic or metal products for personal care and use are transformed into powerful cultural and spiritual evocations as, in Coles hands, mass-produced goods turn into unique, carefully handcrafted artworks.
While his art is often a harsh critique of the capitalist and consumer culture, Coles art is also laced with wit and irony. For the exhibition, Sims selected 32 of Cole's most significant sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints, including:
High Security Jacket for Executives Only, 1988. Woven metal scraps from air-conditioning ducts fashioned into a life-size jacket with a crest patch suggests body armor some executives now require.
Gas Snake with Blue Nozzle, 1996. A sculpture in which a gas nozzle resembles the head of a coiled cobra about to strike, referencing the gas and oil dependence of the world economy Stowage, 1997.
A woodblock print in which Cole uses iron scorches and an ironing board to present the faces/shields of African peoples sold into slavery and the slave ship that took them to America.
Home Hero, 2003. Made of parts of 13 irons this aggressively posed figure symbolizes forces of terrorism and warfare worldwide.
The term "anxious objects" comes from the critic Harold Rosenberg's contention that contemporary artists create hybrid objects with strong and unsettling cultural implications and engery. This exhibition is is part of the Sheldon's Forming American Identities initiative.
The exhibition opened in Monclair in March. After Lincoln, it will travel to museums in Rochester, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, Seattle, Washington and Palo Alto, California.
The exhibition was organized by the Montclair Art Museum with support from the State of New Jersey, Department of Treasury; Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Altria Group, Inc.; Ruth and William True; Merrill Lynch; the Cowles Charitable Trust; and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. The show is presented in Lincoln with the generous support of the Ameritas Charitable Trust, US Bank, the Lincoln Arts Council and the Hixson-Lied Endowment.