There are countless contemporary artists who have appropriated classic materials to create their works of art. In selecting acculturated media, such as stained glass, these artists infuse the resulting artworks with powerful connections to the past. They confront the traditions of society to engage the viewer in a conversation about what art is, where it came from, and where it is going. The New Britain Museum of American Art has recently acquired two striking examples of contemporary art that are born out of classic traditions and materials from centuries past.
Judith Schaechter balances traditional stained glass techniques with methods she has created herself. Inspired by Eurpoean practices, she creates intricate narratives that have overlapping layers of meaning hidden within the details. Using a mixture of engraving, painting, sandblasting, and filing, Schaechter continues to explore the potentials of stained glass as contemporary a medium.
Mad Meg is the anglicized version of Dulle Griet, a figure of Flemish folklore from the fifteenth century. Legend tells that Mad Meg was a peasant woman who led an army of housewives to pillage hell. Dressed in aprons and armed with swords, Mad Meg and her army battled devils and returned victorious with baskets full of golden cups. In Schaechter’s version, we see Meg posed dramatically atop a pedestal comprised of sinister organisms and jewel-like flowers. It is unclear whether she is emerging from the underworld victorious, or about to descend into madness.
A gradute of the Rhode Island School of Design, Schaechter was recently included in the Whitney Biennial, and will be featured in the upcoming Venice Biennale as well as the 2011 Renwick Craft Invitational at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her artworks are in the permanent collections of esteemed museums around the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Born and raised in Paris, France, Alexis Peskine holds various art degrees from a number of US institutions and is a Fulbright Scholar. He currently lives and works in both Paris and New York City.
Peskine’s work focuses on the questioning of identity brought on by the power dynamics within gender, race, nationality, and religion. Through re-contextualizing iconic symbols, he aims to deconstruct their true meaning. In He Died For US?, Peskine takes the classic symbol of a martyr and reconstructs it out of nails, gold leaf, and paint on a stark white background. Exquisite and disturbing, this artwork presents a hybrid martyr who is both modern and ancient, black and white, dead and immortal.
A strong graphic element unique to Peskine’s artwork is the use of nails. He employs nails of varying sizes to replace hundreds, if not thousands, of dots that constitute an image. Some are hammered deeper than others, producing halftones and texture. He cites African Art, Pop Art, Murakami, Picasso, Blaxploitation, and especially Chuck Close as his sources of inspiration for this striking technique. Peskine says, “to me, the nail represents pain as well as strength, so on a deeper level, it also represents transcendence.”
What do you think about these two works of art? How do their ties to the past empower them? What themes do these specific materials bring to mind? Do you like this theme of appropriation? Or do you prefer works of art that do not engage art historical traditions?