Soot, sand, dust, and smoke are things that museums typically try to avoid, but these substances are the latest subject in a series of materials-focused shows at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The exhibition, called “Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design,” up through August 12, begins in the lobby, where the Swarovski crystal– studded light fixture that usually hangs there has been replaced with British artist Jodie Carey’s ten-foot-tall chandelier made from vacuum-cleaner dust.
Having organized shows that explored artistic approaches to everything from cut paper to lace to animal parts, chief curator David McFadden was eager to once again spotlight the work of contemporary artists who specialize in what he describes as “unorthodox, unusual, or unexpected materials.”
He began with some big names in humble mediums. Among them are Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who often works in gunpowder, and British artist Andy Goldsworthy, who fashions twigs, mud, and snow into outdoor installations that disintegrate naturally. Brazilian-born, New York–based Vik Muniz is represented here by documentation of his massive 2002 “drawings” made with a steam shovel and photographed from a helicopter.
“There are some major figures out there, and the thrill is finding the emerging talent to pair with them,” says McFadden. The museum commissioned new works specially for the show: landscapes etched in soot-coated bottles by Jim Dingilian, life-size figures made of dirt by James Croak, and flammable-paint works by artist duo Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren of Studio Glithero, among other installations.
Starting March 6, a series of pieces will be created in front of the public. The program, titled “Swept Away Projects,” includes work by Linda Florence, who will cover a swath of the museum’s floor with an elaborate pattern in chalk. “On the last day of the show, we are going to have a ball, during which people will be allowed to dance on the floor” and wipe away the design, says Museum of Arts and Design director Holly Hotchner.
With sculptures and paintings made of seemingly dirty materials, aren’t the curators concerned that some of the art may be inadvertently cleaned up? McFadden isn’t worried. British artist Catherine Bertola is presenting site-specific art made partially from dust collected at the museum. To assist in the project, the custodial staff gathered dust for weeks, McFadden explains. “So I think by the time the work is created they’ll have gained a certain respect for the material. They’ve been the harvesters.”