The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum will present The Domestic Plane: New Perspectives on Tabletop Art Objects, a five-chapter group exhibition organized by five curators and representing more than 70 artists. The exhibit will feature tabletop art objects from the 20th and 21st centuries. Similar to a theatrical experience, viewers can engage with objects playing off each other, the audience and their setting, creating relationships to discern and meanings to explore. The Domestic Plane is on view at the Aldrich May 20 through Jan. 13.
Given that the art world often focuses on the monumental at the expense of the intimate, the Aldrich deliberately chose to present these exhibits as a way of highlighting the opposite.
“We thought it was timely to look at the intimate in a comprehensive way, and the exhibitions that comprise The Domestic Plane will hopefully offer a surprising take on the range and nature of small sculpture,” said the Aldrich’s exhibitions director and interim co-director, Richard Klein.
The exhibition theme also owes a debt to the Aldrich’s history. In 1964, museum founder Larry Aldrich specifically created the institution in a historical house to advocate for the suitability of contemporary art for display in a domestic setting.
“The Aldrich is located in a profoundly domestic location, suburban Fairfield County, where homes exhibit a complex range of surfaces that are animated by every sort of imaginable object, from the utilitarian to the aesthetic — a situation that creates a natural context for an exhibition that explores the relationship between small sculpture and the living environment,” Klein said.
Amy Smith-Stewart, one of the principal curators of the meta-group exhibition at large, said, “We are experiencing in real time a remarkable dematerialization of objects. Small portable items like books, photographs, and even currency, are now streamlined into ‘smart’ objects. Inherently interactive, they make us feel emotionally ‘attached,’ but we are not physically interconnected.” This series of exhibitions seeks to explore not only the conceptual vitality of the contemporary tabletop art object, but also the myriad ways in which these objects are staged and the endless permutations of relatable meanings,” she said.
One exhibition chapter, “Objects Like Us,” includes work by 50 plus artists, exploring objects on an intimate scale that evince a human condition or attribute. Artist/curator David Adamo will create a site-specific floor installation of white school chalk set out in a herringbone pattern to resemble antique parquet; over time the chalk will disintegrate, evidence of viewers’ movements. The idea is to explore the interconnectedness between audience and objects. “You will find the representation of the body as a central theme,” Adamo said.
In “Kitchen Arrangement,” a site-specific commission, Jessi Reaves will create an immersive experience with interactive furniture and objects: cabinets, seating, appliances, and lighting. “Visitors will experience a dramatic shift in scale, as they enter an installation of sculptural works that double as seating, cabinets, and appliances; an object-based expression of the home’s primal epicenter: a social space essential to living and an area full of encounters,” co-curator Smith-Stewart said.
“On Edge” sees a table as territory and considers its boundaries and relationship with gravity. Artists will respond to a table’s margins with new works that show the edge as a place where limits are reinforced yet tested, a place of both safety and danger. With a tabletop sculpture by Anthony Caro, the installation also uses mid-century modern tables by iconic designers Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson provided by Design Within Reach. Klein organized this chapter.
“Traditionally physical works of art — even wildly transgressive works — are once removed from jeopardy, representing risk, not living it,” Klein said. “There are certainly exceptions: the self-destructing sculptures of Jean Tingley; the fragile, gossamer constructions of Eva Hesse; the early, precariously balanced steel sculpture of Richard Serra. But generally we expect works of art after their creation to be tame and be no guiltier of anything other than collecting dust. The edge is where you grab attention.”
“Almost Everything On The Table” is a philosophical installation conceived by artist Tucker Nichols exploring questions posed by guest curator Dakin Hart, senior curator at the Noguchi Museum. “The central thesis of our chapter is that the big questions — What is balance? How does the universe work? Who are we? — can be meaningfully, if futilely, explored through small means [experiments that fit on a kitchen table],” Hart said.
Viewers may be surprised to find that size does not come into play here, only scale. “And sustained futility, on a small scale, is not only productive but joyous and sublime.”
Seeking questions not answers, “Handheld” will map responses from artists and designers to objects scaled to the hand. This chapter takes a far-reaching approach — the hand as means of creation and frame of reference while the viewer will experience tactile objects in familiar forms that can be looked upon but not touched. Independent curator Elizabeth Essner organized this daringly-staged chapter.
“‘Handheld’ uses the common language of the domestic to explore touch in an age of looking. Materials that can capture touch are central to the works in ‘Handheld,’” she said. The exhibit features a domestic setting where touch is usually engaged, bringing together objects that use the domestic as a means of examining today’s complicated connections between hand and eye. Digital devices allow one to see more of the world than ever before but one cannot touch what is seen.
Graphic novelist, illustrator, and animator Richard McGuire will add an eight-page project to the exhibition publication featuring 128 small line drawings showing the interconnectedness of a group of small objects. He will also create an installation of new objects, “The Way There and Back” in the museum’s Screening Room.
For more information, visit aldrichart.org or call 203-438-4519.