This week, I gave a lecture at Temple University on Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, and Southern Vernacular Art, so I’ve been thinking about different ways of including everyday objects in artwork. One of the most distinctive elements of Southern Vernacular material is that artists employ the detritus of their communities, reusing garbage and forgotten objects in interesting ways. Instead of drawing or painting the homesteads and industries around Birmingham, Alabama, (and Atlanta, Georgia), Dial and Holley have depicted them through the region’s material culture.
Thornton Dial / Memory of the Ladies That Gave Us the Good Life / 2004 / Tin, carpet, wood, glove, washbasin, scrub brush, yard ornament, motor oil bottle, paint brush, clothing, wire, enamel, and spray paint on wood / 98.5 x 82 x 10.5 inches / Image courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation
While walking the High Line earlier this week, I stumbled upon a piece that employs objects commonly seen in New York City. Artist Josh Kline has capitalized on the cultural meanings of purchased, recognizable things to highlight inherent vices within NYC life. Rather than repurposing objects that provide a sense of everyday life, as Dial and Holley have, Kline is using objects as a parody of themselves and of big city culture.
The strength of Kline’s Skittles (2014) is its slow reveal. Upon approaching the work, it seems to be an advertisement for the juice bars that have become pervasive in Manhattan.
On closer inspection, the subversive humor of his project comes out (in the form of ingredient lists):
While Kline’s work lacks the nuance, sophistication, and power of much Southern Vernacular material, it provides a humorous, welcomed moment in a public Manhattan space. It implores city dwellers to take the trappings of modern life a little less seriously.