The typical art exhibit predictably revolves around one of a small group of themes, whether it is an artist, a style of art or a historical period. “Everyday Nothing,” a microexhibit at the Clark Art Institute that is on display through April 28, aims to challenge these norms, exploring the idea that everyday objects convey more meaningful messages than they ostensibly have.
“Everything Nothing” was the winning submission of the Clark’s “Race to the Remix” curatorial challenge, in which entrants had 72 hours to create an exhibit and somehow incorporate the concept of “poetic license.” The curator, Samantha Jones, a 19-year-old student at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, stated, “All the pieces may not fit together in their style or era, but using my poetic license, they fit together because they all have ordinary subjects that anyone can relate to. The idea is to not overlook the little things because they can be just as important as the big things.” While the theme of Jones’s installation is interesting, it soon becomes apparent that if she and the other entrants had been given more time, the exhibit could have been executed much more successfully.
“Everyday Nothing” consists of only ten works of art. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Various Objects, an oil painting by Louis Léopold Boilly, and it embodies Jones’s concept well. The foreground consists of eight objects: a piece of paper, a vial of green liquid, a drawstring pouch, a picture, scissors, a pocketknife, a tweezer-like metal instrument and a string of letter envelopes. The background is a deep earthy brown and is most likely a board or wall as all the objects are “tacked on” to it. The work is nostalgic, and successful in provoking questions that challenge materialism: what significance does the artist attach to these objects; are they objects of the artist’s past or present? The painting evokes melancholy and mystery, reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s apocryphal six-word short story: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”
Despite not having a tangible “object” present, Young Woman in a Pink Skirt, an oil painting by Jean-Bapiste-Camille Corot, is a painting that resonates with Various Objects in the way it elicits questions. The painting features a young woman slouching with a hopeless gaze, leaving the viewer wondering why she looks so sunken, as the painting is of the posed portraiture variety. The painting includes other oddities including the contrast between the luminosity of the woman’s face and clothing to the ominous, dark background set in the outdoors, making the lighting unnatural and eerie.
The successful execution of an intellectually stimulating exhibit stops there. Jones was perhaps attempting to draw out emotions of nostalgia, as she included Neapolitan Children Bathing, a painting by John Singer Sargent of children playing at the beach and Tama, the Japanese Dog, a Renoir that may remind those who had childhood pets of their companions back home. Unfortunately, that was the last connection that seemed to be present.
The other six works in the exhibit were either stretches of the imagination when it came to the original concept or were totally random. In one corner of the room are two porcelain pieces, a plate and a teapot, with insects painted on them. As Jones says in the caption below the teapot, she included the piece because she “instantly loved the insect design on this otherwise normal looking teapot” with no further reasons.
The glass case that displayed a cream jug in the shape of a cow and an interestingly designed whistle were similarly inconsistent with the message of the exhibit. The cow creamer jug was witty – as Jones remarks, the artist made the interesting choice of having the jug take the shape of the original source of the cream. However, her wholly unsatisfying explanation of including the whistle was, “This seems like an insignificant piece, but it’s included in my exhibition because of its simplicity and quirkiness.”
Jones was definitely on to some intriguing concepts. Perhaps if she had more time and experience, the whole thing could have come together much more smoothly. The lack of continuity in her exhibit (and inclusion of too many works she simply found “interesting”), left “Everyday Nothing” with a feeling of disconnectedness. She conveys art’s powerful ability to both produce childhood nostalgia and ignite curiosity, provoking viewers into asking questions. However, this viewer found they were all the wrong ones.