Before the 20th century, the use of everyday objects in Western art was most often associated with the genre of still-life painting, where natural and manmade items were depicted for their symbolic meanings and as evidence of an artist’s virtuosity. In the early 20th century Marcel Duchamp challenged traditional meanings and methods of making of art by boldly selecting commonplace objects—a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack, and a urinal, for example—and designating them as art. These “readymade” objects became subject matter and substance for three-dimensional assemblages and sculpture that redefined both aesthetic experience and evidence of an artist’s craft.
Everyday Things brings together works from the collection made from the 1960s to the present, including a number that are being exhibited here for the first time. Some realistically depict ordinary domestic objects (a paper bag, a garden hose, supermarket produce), while others accumulate quantities of found materials (plastic Coke bottles, rubber flip-flop sandals, audiotape) or serve as functional forms in their own right (light fixtures and furniture). Several artists transform existing materials to become components of other everyday things—such as wall sconces made with portable coolers and colorful benches composed of handrails.
Many of these artworks reflect current societal themes, addressing issues from waste and recycling to domesticity in relation to industrial production to the impact of functional objects’ design on daily life. Whether featuring traditional or non-traditional materials, they heighten our awareness of how everyday things—from the banal to the transformative—characterize our world.