Kat Murrell

Ideas for living-Metamorphosis at Villa Terrace

By - Mar 15th, 2010 04:00 am
"Hottentot Not!" by Fo Wilson

“Hottentot Not!” by Fo Wilson

What does your desk look like? Where do you eat your meals? What does your furniture say about your history — personal and otherwise? Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Everyday Objects, currently on view at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, features relatively ordinary things that have taken on surprising and unexpected new identities.

The exhibition brings together six artists with mostly large-scale works in a rather condensed space on the second floor of the museum, a 1923 Italian Renaissance-style mansion. This is their regular space for temporary exhibitions, but considering how these objects are wedded to everyday living, it’s intriguing to imagine the effect if they were spread throughout the museum, each existing in its own domain.  Fo Wilson’s Hottentot Not! is granted the luxury of space, which powerfully sets off this installation that responds to the fetishization of Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who was displayed to English audiences in the early 19th century as the Hottentot Venus.

The main exhibition room is like a curatorial cocktail party featuring a desk by Ray Chi, a wildly painted screen by Albin Erhart, a giant steel basket sculpture by Kim Cridler, and punctuated by display cases of Frankie Flood’s fast and furious hot-rod-speed-demon pizza cutters.

One end of the room is dominated by Jennifer Harris’ Etiquette Tablecloth. Milwaukee art aficionados may recall this work from last year’s Decorative Directive exhibition at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts . It’s nice to see this piece again, like revisiting a fond acquaintance.  Harris also has on view the related Etiquette Tray, an institutional plastic tray that calls to mind cafeteria experiences of all kinds. Printed on the tray are diagrams of place settings, the formal sort found on the Etiquette Tablecloth. The tray is a somber little piece,

"Etiquette Tray" by Jennifer Harris

“Etiquette Tray” by Jennifer Harris

as though it confesses to having grander aspirations than it will ever achieve. It speaks to us about the environment of eating, suggesting cafeterias that are often cold and impersonal, transitory, at times asking “where do you eat your meals, and how?” And the food – well, you can fill in your own impressions of cafeteria food. The place settings it is imprinted with wistfully evoke the values of well-prepared dinners shared with friends.

Ray Chi’s Desk collapses the worlds of work and relaxation into a single unit. Many of us who spend a lot of hours at our desks will appreciate this piece. I wanted to sit at it; truth be told, I wanted to crawl under it and stay there.

The desk is constructed from beautifully toned wood and natural elements—bamboo, wicker, slate, even water. A rack for wine bottles and  accompanying glasses turn this into a locus for socializing. A clever little niche for books keeps favorite volumes close at hand, but remains uncluttered. A gentle gurgle of water plays over rocks in a little desktop pool. Small-scale Zen impulses abound subtly. This is a desk that draws meditative comforts close at hand.

The metamorphosis of these objects isn’t a total transformation; there’s no disguise of function. But what is suggested, particularly in the work of Harris and Chi, are ideas and ideals that lie beneath the often-frazzled surface of life, reminding us of what could be, as opposed to what is.

Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Everyday Objects is currently on display at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Avenue, and runs through April 11, 2010.For more information, hours and admission prices, visit their website or call 414-271-3656.

Categories: Art

0 thoughts on “Ideas for living-Metamorphosis at Villa Terrace”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a nifty piece of writing. Thanks, Kat. Now I have to see the show.–Tom

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