Kat Murrell
“The Tool at Hand”

Necessity, caprice and industry at MAM

By - Dec 20th, 2011 04:00 am
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Ndidi Ekubia Connection Vase, 2011. Photo credit: Stephen Brayne.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and caprice can be the pal of creativity. In this spirit, the Chipstone Foundation in April invited 16 artists to create a work using a single tool. The results are on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum in newly opened exhibition, The Tool at Hand.The exhibition is subtitled as a “Chipstone Lab Experiment.” It feels exploratory, imaginative, even a bit rough around the edges in the bright and pristine gallery space. Risk is involved. The makers of these objects had to move away from usual comfort zones for intense one-on-ones with unorthodox methods and materials. The challenge lies in the process, and the artists embarked on their journeys perhaps without definite notions of how their destinations. The results are not always pretty, but some of them are stunning.

The first go-round in a new way of working usually involves a struggle, as an artist breaks unfamiliar ground. David Gates confronts a single plank with a contractor’s saw in “Saw, Splice, Split, Scrape, Shave.” He does all this and more, upping the ante by starting with a fairly thin plank and bisecting its slender width as shown in an accompanying video. Gates yields a form that is an awkward cousin to an artist’s easel, or maybe a fanciful construction for birds. It’s a bit ungainly but admits the path to an endpoint is not necessarily smooth.

Similarly, a video illuminates the making of Beth Lipman’s “Gift Bowl” out of polyurethane and found objects. What those objects actually are is a bit of mystery. No one, in your lifetime or mine, could get through all that caulk. It’s not so much a gift as a tomb, but an everlasting surprise all the same. A clip about the making of the work shows Lipman applying caulk as if she were decorating a hugely generous cake.


Beth Lipman, Gift Bowl, 2011. Image courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum.

Some of the most overtly beautiful pieces follow traditional forms. Perhaps a predetermined form eliminates one set of problems and allows the artist to focus attention on the handling of materials. Ndidi Ekubia speaks about her hammered silver vessel in another video; in her words and the marks of the piece, there is power. The sterling silver of “Connection Vase” is refined and controlled but bears the marks of energy and force. It sits proudly in stillness, yet its contours and textures wave beneath the lights. A close neighbor is “Maelstrom VII” by Michael Eden, a strappy, sleek vase formed from nylon and a deep blue mineral coating, like a postmodern cocktail dress that is all elegance and negative space.

The Tool at Hand continues through April 1.  For further information, visit the Milwaukee Art Museum website and the Chipstone Foundation on Art Babble.

Related Events at MAM

Express Talk: Thurs., Feb. 2, noon and 5:30 p.m.

Gallery Talks: 6:16 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 8 and Jan. 19.; 1:30 p.m. Tues., Jan. 31 and Feb. 28.

Tool Weekend at the Museum: March 16–18, with artist talks, demonstrations, competitions, and performance. The weekend includes the Kohl’s Art Generation Family Sundays event, 10 a.m. -4 p.m. Sunday, March 18: hands‐on art making, a scavenger hunt, meeting visiting artists, and more.



Categories: A/C Feature 2, Art

0 thoughts on ““The Tool at Hand”: Necessity, caprice and industry at MAM”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beth Lipman’s sculpture will eventually reveal itself as the resin cures — and clarifies.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ah — thanks Michael. I was not aware it behaves like that. It will be quite interesting to see the transformation over time.

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