Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art

Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art will open at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts Friday, November 10, 2006. The exhibition features artwork that challenges traditional definitions of art, while also documenting 20th-century American culture. Artists represented in the exhibition include Vija Celmins, Jim Dine, Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Wayne Thiebaud, Fred Tomaselli, Andy Warhol and more. Extra-Ordinary continues through February 11, 2007. 

Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and curated by Dana Miller, associate curator at the Whitney, Extra-Ordinary brings together more than 70 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures from the museum’s permanent collection.

Extra-Ordinary illuminates unexpected facets of the familiar—the extraordinary within the ordinary—through artworks that compel us to examine our surroundings with fresh eyes. Each piece plays with the traditional notion that art must be elevated beyond everyday life, in both its content and its medium. Spanning more than 85 years of American art, these works present a record of the culture in which they were created, capturing precise moments in American life, and often the implicit commentary of the artist as well.

New York has organized for us, an exhibition that explores the complexity of literal representations from Pop Art to postmodernism,” says Susan Edwards, executive director of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. “By turning away from introspection and taking a closer look at what people normally overlook, mid-20th century artists such as Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol cast a light on everyday objects, consumer culture and a media-saturated environment. Viewers will be challenged and reminded that in the arena of representation there is room for good-natured fun as well as reflection.”

Following World War II, America experienced a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. An abundance of consumer goods and a deluge of images—from billboard advertisements and comic strips to product packaging on supermarket shelves—provided artists with a fresh iconography. In the mid-1950s, a generation of emerging artists looked to these items as alternatives to Abstract Expressionism, the dominant mode of art making in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg considered the materials of their environment for their subject matter. While Rauschenberg incorporated items such as newspapers, glass bottles and bedding into his paintings, Johns depicted familiar images such as American flags, ale cans, targets and numbers. These items became a visual vocabulary that he would return to again and again throughout his career.

Building on the experiments of Johns and Rauschenberg, a number of vanguard artists in the 1960s incorporated both humor and irony in their work, celebrating America while satirizing its excess of material comforts. Art that enthusiastically appropriated popular imagery and the burgeoning commodity culture was loosely dubbed “Pop.” For Andy Warhol, one of the foremost practitioners of Pop Art, this fascination often centered on the branding and marketing of consumer goods. Extra-Ordinary features Warhol’s Green Coca-Cola Bottles, which depicts multiple images of this American icon with its distinctive silhouette and calligraphic logo.

Many of the artists in this exhibition were drawn to items whose shelf life was soon to expire, objects about to become artifacts from a specific moment in our material culture. The clothespin, an item rendered nearly obsolete by the electric clothes dryer, is the subject of Oldenburg’s Clothespin—45-Foot Version, Model, which suggests a sense of nostalgia or even sadness. In his assemblage, Jeff Koons treats vacuum cleaners as relics, hermetically sealing them in a lit display case, entirely divorced from their original function.

Other artists address a more biographical relationship to inanimate things, which become metaphors for their wishes or memories. When Tony Feher completed his 1997 work, composed of 57 plastic Coca-Cola bottles, the sculpture reminded him of the pattern of metal stitches on his torso after a major surgery, and he gave it the title Suture “in homage” to his lasting scar. In the context of this exhibition, Feher’s work can’t help but call to mind Warhol’s earlier painting as well.

Carefully distilling their subjects from their surroundings, the artists in this exhibition reveal the poetry and magic in the everyday. The artwork continues to be relevant for American artists, enduring in some of the extraordinary artwork of the 21stcentury.


Programs scheduled at the Frist Center in conjunction with Extra-Ordinary include:

  • Films at the Frist: Friday, November 10, 2006 at 7:00 p.m., the documentary Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture will be shown in the auditorium. Free.
  • Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests: Friday, November 10 – Sunday, November 12, 2006: Visitors may viewWarhol’s16mm-portrait films featuring an incredible variety of personalities from New York’s art scene from 1963 to 1966. The films will run continuously in the auditorium during public hours. Free.
  • Curator’s Perspective Lecture: Sunday, December 3, 2006 at 2:00 p.m., Dana Miller, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, will present a lecture about Extra-Ordinary. The lecture will take place in the auditorium and is free.
  • ARTini: Friday, November 17, 2006 at 7:00 p.m., Frist Center Executive Director Susan Edwards will lead an ARTini talk about one or two pieces of art from Extra-Ordinary.
  • Films at the Frist: Friday, December 7, 2006 at 7:00 p.m., the film Being There will be shown in the auditorium. Free.
  • ARTini: Friday, January 19, 2007, Frist Center Associate Curator Nancy Cason will lead an ARTini talk about one or two pieces of art from Extra-Ordinary. Free with purchase of gallery admission.
  • Kids Club: Designed for children ages 5–10. Participants can enjoy specific art-making activities that relate to Extra-Ordinary each Saturday:
    • Saturdays in October, Kids Club members will make art in the manner of artist Robert Rauschenberg by combining collage and painting techniques to create an original “combine.”
    • Saturdays in November, Kids Club members will transfer a 2-D drawing into a 3-D wire sculpture inspired by the work of artist Alexander Calder.
    • Saturdays in December, Kids Club members will use some of the same stamping techniques as Pop artist Andy Warhol. Club members will craft their own shoe stamps and create compositions to showcase the design.

The Frist Center’s website, www.fristcenter.org, will feature a complete listing of public programs related to Extra-Ordinary.


Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art is sponsored by:

2006 Platinum Sponsor: HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals

2006 Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

2006 Silver Sponsor: BellSouth

This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features over 30 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and under and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and military, and $6.50 for college students with ID. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3246. Special admission pricing for The Quest for Immortality applies: $10 for Frist Center members, $17 for adults, $14 for seniors and free for children 18 an under. Groups of 20 or more with advance reservation may purchase The Quest for Immortality tickets for $14 each by calling (615) 744-3246. Through Oct. 8, 2006, the Frist Center will be open Saturday–Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays and Fridays until 9:00 p.m. After Oct. 8, 2006, public hours are Mondays-Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. More information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our website at www.fristcenter.org.


Photo by Tanushree Rao on Unsplash

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