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Fleeting And Fabulous: 8 Artworks Made From Dirt, Dust, And Ashes

Nobody likes a dirty art museum, least of all the museum itself, which has an obvious stake in keeping precious artifacts clean. So why is the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York so filthy these days? Answer: Because the dirt is the art.

MAD recently opened Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design, a fascinating exhibit on the “artistic potential of ephemeral materials.” The 25 artists featured build elaborate sculptures, paintings, and installations out of stuff your average person would rather wipe off with a sponge: mud, sand, rocks, twigs, grime, smog, and even skin cells. There are intricate nature scenes carved from smoke residue in glass bottles, a spectral take on the old ship-in-a-bottle trope. There’s a film on a “reverse graffiti” artist who scrubs away urban soot in the pattern of human skulls. There’s even a giant carpet woven out of the dust particles of MAD’s own visitors (which gives a whole new meaning to the notion of interactive art).

Now for the “But what does it all mean?” bit: “The artists in Swept Away resurrect and rearrange the neglected and castoff materials of our daily lives, and in doing so force us to reconsider their underlying associations,” curator David McFadden says. “More than elaborately crafted and designed works of art, the sculptures, installations, and performances featured in the exhibition heighten our awareness of time, place, memory, and emotion.”

If you live in New York or happen to be visiting between now and August 12, go have a look. Just don’t sneeze, or you might blow the artwork away.

[Images courtesy of MAD]

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