Swept Away Show at Museum of Art and Design

by Joann Jovinelly

Ossario, Photo by Gilberto Topczewski

Everyday detritus manifests itself in a variety of ephemeral works in the fantastically unique show, Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Design, now on display at Manhattan’s Museum of Art and Design.

Cummings, Flora Detail

While largely composed from the discarded materials of life, most of the pieces featured in Swept Away are made from the stuff you might find at the bottom of a vacuum bag, such as Paul Hazelton’s Death Duster (a skull sculpture made from a discarded feather duster) or even the catch basket in your clothing dryer, like Julie Parker’s patchwork quilt made entirely from rescued lint. Other pieces, made from the captured remnants of smoke-filled bottles, collected sand, or disintegrating mud, are even more ethereal. Artist Andy Goldsworthy, best known for his sculptures and landscapes made from leaves and flower petals, encapsulated an animal skeleton in a ball of sand that viewers see gradually disappearing into the ocean in a series of photographs.

Among our favorite works were those of artist Jim Dingilian, whose process of creating detailed scenes inside glass bottles is two-fold. First, he carefully suspends glass bottles above an open flame, which fills them with carbon, and then, using delicate tools like needles as drawing instruments, he removes the carbon creating amazingly haunting images in shades of gray and black. Once the caps or corks are back in place, the images are sealed and protected. Dingilian’s pieces are at once tender and provocative, made more so because of the diligence that it took to create them.

Similarly, artist Alexandre Orion, who practices reverse graffiti in São Paulo, Brazil, scrapes and removes the dirt and grime that builds up in tunneled roadways, typically in the form of a repeated skull design. The results are as aesthetically beautiful as they are sophisticated, especially considering the temporal nature of street graffiti. Photos of Orion’s work are also showcased at the museum.

The curator of Swept Away, David McFadden, chose each of the artists in the show based not only on the materials in their works, but largely on the creativity and uniqueness behind them. The show is made further interesting through a series of live installations where artists return to the museum to demonstrate their techniques working in the media of dirt and grime. One such example of an upcoming installation-cum-performance piece involves the work of artist Elvira Wersche, who works exclusively in sand grains that she’s collected from beaches all over the world. Wersche assembles the sand in meaningful collections and uses the grains to create paintings. Just before the end of the exhibit, a group of dancers will do a choreographed performance through the artwork, forever mixing the sand, which will then be swept together and redistributed into tiny containers and given away to visitors. Swept Away runs through August 12.