Affirmation Arts launches their newly renovated space at 523 West 37th street and inaugurates the gallery’s programming with the exhibition, Garbage Picker! The Contemporary Artist as Chiffonnier(e). The 15,000 square foot space, designed by Peter Matthews AIA, houses a 2,200 square foot gallery, studios and offices. The building is situated in the west side’s Hudson Yards district in proximity to cutting-edge contemporary art spaces like Exit Art and The Baryshnikov Arts Center. Curated by independent curator Amy Brandt, the exhibition features the work of artists Jinkee Choi, Dianna Cohen, Charlie Coolidge, Christopher Jordan, Portia Munson, and Maya Onoda.
Drawing on the concept of the 19th century Parisian chiffonnier(e), or ragpicker, Garbage Picker! explores the concept of today’s artist as an artist-chiffonnier(e) – or one who attributes new aesthetic value to society’s refuse-and draws conceptual parallels between capitalism at its nascence in the 19th century to our present Global and Post-Industrial period. Directly affected by the rise of commodity capitalism and the fluctuations caused by Hausmanization, the chiffonnier(e) earned a living by sorting through, reselling, and reusing the detritus of city life. As member of the independent working class, he or she was regarded by many as a practicing philosopher and one of the only truly liberated individuals of this period.
Like the chiffonnier(e), artists within our present society practice the same activities of collecting, organizing and transforming society’s leftovers or waste into objects valued for their aesthetic and larger metaphorical content. As elements of “low” or mass consumer culture have entered into the domain of Modern artistic practice, the conceptual figure of the artist- chiffonnier(e) seems to have now become the new paragon of the artist. The practice of today’s artist- chiffonnier(e) is particularly poignant in the early 21st century as the world faces imminent ecological crises, such as global warming, the depletion of natural resources, and post-consumer waste. Jinkee Choi personalizes these large-scale, world issues in his “Trash Portraits: You are What You Dump” series. In these works, garbage taken directly from a person’s trash barrel is used to create his or her likeness as a three-dimensional portrait bust. Approximately one hundred years after the rise of capitalism, today’s artist- chiffonnier(e) stands as a pertinent figure, linking the visual arts with the important economic and environmental changes that have taken place in recent decades.
Jinkee Choi, Robert Knafo, Web-Art Magazine Owner, 2007
Christopher Jordan, Cellphones #2, Atlanta, 2005
Artist Portia Munson compulsively collects random objects found in the activities of her daily life that simultaneously excite and repulse her. Like the chiffonnier(e), she sorts these seemingly arbitrary items into painterly, color-coded installations. For example, in Green Piece; Lawn, color references the multiple variations of green found in nature and brings environmental issues to the forefront. Likewise, Dianna Cohen builds upon a similar notion of accumulation in her wall pieces constructed from multiple plastic bags in various types, sizes, and colors. These framed and hung works conjure up the ubiquitousness, convenience and quick disposability of the plastic bag in America’s throw-away society.
Dianna Cohen, Falda, 2005
CharlesCoolidge, Container Cottage, 2005
Photographer Christopher Jordan builds upon a similar notion of accumulation in his images taken of industrial sites in order to create layered topographical landscapes of detritus, like discarded cell phones or recycled glass bottles. Littered with the refuse of commodity capitalism, his large-scale images present a consuming view of America’s throw-away society.
Charles Coolidge and Maya Onoda take the idea of collecting one step further by emphasizing the false sense of security that consumerism can sometimes provide. They assign sentimentality and memory to discarded objects by using them to create re-useable objects and home-like environments. Coolidge references the vagabond characteristic of the chiffonnier(e) by building a home constructed from the packaging used to contain and transport consumer products in his Container Cottage. Offering a distinctive feminist sensibility, Onoda infuses re-usable objects and environments with an organic sensuality. Constructed from old bed sheets, nylon stockings, shower caps, and shoulder pads, works like Chandlier, 2006, and Red Dress, 2006, assign discarded materials with a new functionality and beauty. The obsessive, almost neurotic quality of the artist- chiffionnier (e) that exists in all of these works is derived from a strong concern for the environment and a desire to draw attention to ecological issues.
Unlike the chiffonnier(e) who was considered a social outcast, today’s artist-chiffonnier(e)s are heavily involved in the marketing and promoting of their work. Similarly to Baudelaire’s 19th century concept of the artist- flâneur, today’s artist- chiffonnier(e) observes the ironic, ambiguous, and dehumanizing aspects of Postmodernity and transfers these qualities into objects assigned with a new aesthetic value.