In 1935, Walter Benjamin published The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, heralding a new epoch for art in the Industrial Age. The technological development of photography, in particular, radically shifted the possibilities for artistic production. Benjamin posed that the loss of the aura of the unique physical art object, along with the implementation of modern technical capacities, brought about substantial changes in how we approach and understand art. This new condition opened up the field of art to play and the exploration of industrial and mass-produced materials and to their reinterpretation. Since then, many artists have stripped the artwork of its claim to be unique, handmade, and sacred through the possibilities that a boundless choice of media has provided.
By the 1960s, consumer goods or their recognizable copies were everywhere to be seen in art. This creative liberty enabled artists to become critical commentators of culture, but it also led to the commodification of art. And while any object could be designated as art by the artist, this selection was dependent on the historical and contextual factors within the art world. Found objects as artworks contain many associations and can prompt diverse thoughts from the viewer, involving the public as active participants in decoding them. Using found materials including debris, toys, or talismans, artists activate personal and global cultural imaginaries to produce desire or nostalgia. Today, the nostalgic impulse is a trend that can be seen in artistic production and the move towards interdisciplinarity at large. 1
The study of material culture has gained momentum in the last 20 years, with scholars from a variety of disciplines agreeing that “artefacts are implicated in the construction, maintenance and transformation of social identities,” and artists have great influence on the construction of those identities and the avenues by which they are questioned. 4 While on the surface these works seem to reveal aspects of the mundane through their use of everyday materials, they can also be opened up to offer deeper meditations on contemporary culture. Even if wit and immediacy are their most used strategies, artists working with quotidian objects possess a capacity to evoke fact and fiction through the objects themselves or the scenarios they propose. Even then, their interpretation will vary every time the work is seen, since individual memory will dictate our association or lack thereof with the work of art. This capacity is what makes contemporary art inexhaustible.
Text by Cindy Peña, Curatorial Assistant, Museo Jumex.
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