Collecting and thrifting have always been a part of my life: discovering a discarded treasure with a history of its own is a nostalgic and sentimental thrill. Visiting Rediscovered Delights: The Inventive world of Found Object Sculpture at the Snyderman Gallery explores what happens when this wistful impulse to collect is teamed with creative talent and vision.
The most obvious significance of found object sculpture in contemporary art is its sustainability. Creating fine art can often mean a significant monetary investment from the artist. Using found and appropriated objects naturally diffuses the expense of materials, while also recycling the old into something new. This “something new” is what intrigues me about found and appropriated object sculpture. Rediscovered Delights is not merely a trove of antiques cobbled together; rather, these are pieces that have been carefully and lovingly curated by the artists and then synthesized into the new in the making of the work. Here the discarded is not merely repurposed but takes on a life of its own.
Discussing this with gallery director, Frank Hopson, he informed me that several artists whose work was featured in this show are dedicated members of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers. The Dumpster Divers, who recently celebrated their 20th anniversary, are a community of artists who collectively seek out discarded treasures for use in their own work. Divers Leo Sewell and Linda Lou Horn’s works are both featured in the show.
Sewell’s “Big Brass Babe,” a mammoth, curvaceous female torso, certainly grabs the eye. Constructed entirely of recovered brass, she is not a gross heap of trash, but a strong and graceful lady that Titian and Rubens would have admired. I was also drawn by his series of smaller pieces such as, “Decoy,” a duck composed entirely by found trinkets. The disparate hues and designs of the individual pieces juxtaposed create a playful visual harmony that exudes mirth and humor, something I am always happy to find in fine art.
Similarly, Linda Lou Horn’s vehicles filled with oddball characters are expressive of a current of comedy within fine artwork. Her whimsical sculptures are on the smaller side, lending a feeling of familiarity and intimacy, as though one has rediscovered a childhood toy.
In contrast to Horn’s whimsy, Cathy Rose’s porcelain and found object pieces are deeply emotional. Rose openly confesses that her current work explores her grief over the recent passing of her partner. “Reach,” a bust with elongated arms spread wide, serving as perches for three doves, evokes a searching out, perhaps for peace or rest. “Patience” and “Wait” are quiet and reflective, poignant to behold.
An interesting twist on the collector/ salvager mentality emanates from Randall Cleaver’s sculptures, which combine the discarded with timekeeping devices. Many of his sculptures incorporate functioning clocks that he has constructed, being trained in clock-making. The fact that his artistic process includes such a time-consuming, timeless art form is quite clever. “March of the Penguins” is a clock in which plastic nuns “march” around a plastic gallery and play “Ave Maria” on the hour. “Majestic Puppet Master” is a miniature stage fabricated by a reclaimed heater case; the mannequin hand puppeteers the figurine into a bowing position. They seem to explore questions of the Divine and the role of religion and ritual with a tongue-in-cheek wit.
In a category all their own, Stacey Webber’s sculptures are small wonders. Created entirely of vintage coins, her “Craftsman Series” is a group of hollow sculptures of tools and implements generally associated with blue collar employment. I never thought a hacksaw could be precious or graceful but in their display case, “Hacksaw” and “Keyhole Saw” succeed in elevating the tradition of manual labor from the mundane to the sacred.
Rediscovered Delights: The Inventive World of Found Object Sculpture will be on display at the Snyderman Gallery until August 15. More information about the exhibition and gallery hours can be found by visiting their website.