I confess I don’t quite know what to make of the new exhibit Studio Job MAD HOUSE at the Museum of Arts and Design. This is the first American solo museum exhibition Studio Job, the Antwerp-based duo of Job Smeets (Belgian) and Nynke Tyagel (Dutch).
Their work – opulent sculptures, art objects and furniture – employs traditional crafts such as gilding, bronze casting, and faience, and is deliberately provocative and unconventional. You will find tables, clocks, candlestick holders, teapots and such, but not too much that is actually usable, as their pieces tend to be oversized and clearly decorative. Many incorporate the theme of destruction – sinking ships, bombings, and train crashes – but the references to historical events can sometimes feel a bit forced. I would say the best way to approach this exhibit is to be open to the humor and social commentary, while appreciating the craftsmanship.
Standouts for me include the Pyramid, a charming reinterpretation of the outsized 17th century delftware flower pyramids. Composed of a number of stacked elements such as a pipe, a coffee pot, and an office building, as well as gilt steam clouds, it is topped with a tea kettle that seemingly defies gravity.
Your eye will be caught by the 12-foot clock and lamp of King Kong attacking the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) which the duo have placed atop the ancient city of Petra. While clearly referencing the classic film, the wall label informs us that this piece is also “a commentary on monuments as fleeting symbols of power…”
There’s a marquetry screen, inspired by Bavarian painted furniture, that delights the eye with bucolic images of trees, birds and farm animals … until you see the axe…
Elsewhere in the exhibit you’ll find a wonderful wooden bench whose back extends into a wing-like triptych with drawings of skeletons of real and imagined extinct animals, a kind of momento-mori theme as found in 17th century Dutch paintings. Also in this vein is Persian, a thoroughly delightful hand-woven rug whose colors and composition evoke those of Persian rugs. But look a little closer, and you’ll see those motifs consist of animal and dinosaur skeletons. The Wrecking Ball lamp that sits on the rug is great, too (think miniature solid bronze bulldozer with a light for the wrecking ball)! Speaking of lamps, the Tour Eiffel – basically a bronze miniature Eiffel Tower whose top curves like a lamp neck is worth a stop.
To go back to rugs, the exhibit also contains a charming hand-made rug entitled Symphony, which is decorated with orchestral instruments – the colors and design give it a joyful, playful feel.
Visit Pinocchio, a bronze interpretation of the fabled puppet – here his nose is a saucepan handle!
If your house is like the Addams Family’s, and you need wall sconces, look no further than Candle Man, an oversized stylized cartoony bronze torso holding two candles, and check out the Train Crash table in front of it (this piece was unveiled when the duo announced the end of their romantic partnership).
Even though it’s really kitchy, I liked the Safe which can only be opened by turning the nose on the clown’s head that sits on top of it.
Overall, I found myself smiling when I left – I think you will too. The exhibit runs through August 21st.
If you get to the museum before April 3rd, stop by Ebony G. Patterson’s show, Dead Treez – don’t let the name put you off. Through an imaginative combination of textiles plus ready-made, embroidered and crocheted objects, she has created elaborate depictions of murder victims that are statements about masculinity and socioeconomic status as expressed in the dance halls of her native Jamaica. Her use of adornment and mix of fabrics demand that you stop and take a closer look. The life-size figural tableau of ten male mannequins is especially arresting. On the second floor she continues these themes with an amazing installation of poisonous plants and selected pieces of the museum’s jewelry collection.
More images of both these shows are on my Instagram feed.
Check out the Museum’s website for information about their other exhibits and programs.