My senior show at California College of the Arts (then known as California College of Arts and Crafts) in the spring of 2003 was called "Sometimes I Wish I Was Famous". The title was inspired by a Swedish tribute album to Depeche Mode of the same name that was released in 1991. The album's title refers to a Depeche Mode song called "Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead". My show was about the pedestal. I choose the title mostly because I liked the way it sounded. And because I thought I was being clever.
When I was in art school I believed that all of my art projects needed to be high concept. I felt it was important that my creations have something meaningful to say to the viewer. The more obscure and abstract the idea the better. Doing this would make me a REAL artist. Here is the statement from my senior show:
The pedestal is an invisible being in a museum or gallery residing in a curious world of the unseen. Its sole purpose is to elevate fine art, for without it the work would live on the floor, yet at the same time go unnoticed by the viewer. Not a small feat and one that is done every day without complaint. The pedestal may be little seen but it is worthy of our notice.
With this show I wanted to highlight a part of the art world that is ordinarily overlooked and underappreciated. I would force the viewer to acknowledge something they might ordinarily ignore. Putting the focus on an object that holds up art but is not actually considered art itself was, I felt, a daring move on my part. Clearly, only I cared enough to give the lowly pedestal its due.
Over the course of many months I visited museums and galleries and, when allowed, took lots of pictures of pedestals. During this documentation period I discovered a wide variety of pedestal styles on display. Some were just simple wooden rectangles painted white. Others were as ornate as a Corinthian column. Once I started looking I realized there was a lot to see and I became quite obsessed with noticing pedestals.
I decided the next logical step was to make pedestals of my own. I selected four images of pedestals, all simple white boxes, and decided to replicate them. These were constructed out of high quality ply wood and I carefully painted them with multiple coats of brand-name acrylic paint. They were beautiful. Of those four pedestals I put two on display as part of my senior show. The pedestals were prominently placed in the gallery with nothing on top of them. On the walls next to each pedestal I hung a large-scale print on canvas of the original photograph I had taken of each pedestal. This was to evoke the idea of a painting with the pedestal as subject matter. High concept art, indeed.
My instructors loved my work. My peers, not so much. Remarks in my comment book were comprised of "boring", "pretentious", and "hmmm". My favorite was, "What a waste of time!!! You have been officially diagnosed with art school stupids so you'll become a great professor one day." I won't lie, this reaction hurt me at the time. But looking back more than ten years later, I can't say that I don't agree with the criticism. What, exactly, was I trying to achieve with this? In the end, wasn't this just a high concept one-liner?
I left art school a month later with a BFA, little sense of who I was as an artist and four well-made pedestals. I had no idea what my next move would be. Slowly, I began to explore materials and objects solely because they interested and fascinated me. I allowed myself to discover whatever came from that. I made a point not to dwell too much on the meaning of anything that I created. I also built two more pedestals and acquired three that were made by someone else. At this point I had a nice selection of pedestals and a great way to display my art, most of which was sculpture. I like to joke that the best thing to come from my degree in fine arts is my pedestal collection.
Earlier this year as I was cleaning and painting them in preparation for open studios at American Steel, I had a chance to reflect on these objects that have served me so well over the years. I tried to remember what about the pedestal had so appealed to me back then. In truth, I really did care about the fact that it resides in the art world as an invisible being. At the time, I just wanted to show people that the pedestal was something worth appreciating.
That's when I made the connection: this is how I feel about almost all of the materials I use to make sculptures. Whether it's bottle caps saved from the trash, metal removed from the scrap bin, marble chunks fished out of the river or cardboard that's bypassed the recycle bin - I just want to elevate these underappreciated objects to a higher level.
I love my pedestals (I've since created five more out of shipping crate materials) and use them for their intended purpose all the time. These pedestals, originally constructed so that they may be seen as something great all on their own, are now being used to help elevate other lowly objects to loftier heights. What could be more meaningful than that?