PROVIDENCE, RI, DECEMBER 12, 2019—A landmark example of artist-curated museum exhibitions, Raid the Icebox I with Andy Warhol (1970) presented entire sections of objects at the RISD Museum as they appeared in storage, with little or no regard for their condition, authenticity, or art historical status. It remains one of the most celebrated and subversive exhibitions in contemporary art. Raid the Icebox Now, currently on view at the RISD Museum, celebrates the 50th anniversary of this exhibition. Artists Pablo Bronstein, Nicole Eisenman, Pablo Helguera, Beth Katleman, Simone Leigh, Sebastian Ruth, Paul Scott, and Triple Canopy have created new bodies of work that use the museum as a site for critical creative production and presentation through the exhibition and digital publication.
In keeping with RISD’s mission as a museum and an art school, participating artists were invited to interact with the collection as an extension of their studio practice and to use the galleries and publication to explore ideas they otherwise would not have the opportunity to pursue. Galleries throughout the museum have been activated by immersive installations, which bring together new work with a collection of art and design that spans ancient times to the present. Developed in response to each of the artists, Raid the Icebox Now is also a free publication that features new writings and multimedia projects by each of the artists. Museum objects, spaces, and the stories they hold have provided the catalysts and fertile ground for new narratives and experiences.
Pablo Bronstein pays homage to the period room, an exhibition practice now in decline. Historical Rhode Island Decor presents three rooms decorated with new wallpapers and printed fabrics that reflect the development of the architectural imagery of statehood and serve as the backdrop to objects from the museum’s storage to present plausible historical interiors. A new video work builds on these spaces, envisioning choreographed movement within its bounds.
Nicole Eisenman creates an installation that plucks portraits from the chronology of art history and gives them space to step forward, helping us realize that each work’s subject had a life as vivid and complex as our own. In Tonight we are going out and we are all getting hammered, we slip between gallery and nightclub and back again as works ranging from medieval to contemporary draw attention to their humanity. Online, a work of short fiction by Matthew Lawrence is accompanied by video vignettes in which time and space become increasingly skewed as the museum space cross-pollinates with the bar space.
Pablo Helguera explores the domestic contexts of artworks, particularly as they exist in artists’ personal lives and working environments, as well as in the homes of their close family and collaborators. Inventarios/Inventories draws upon the Museum’s Nancy Sayles Day Collection of Latin American Art. Living artists and the families, close friends, and collaborators of those no longer alive help provide a view of the domestic lives of artworks, turning galleries into intimate settings activated by conversations and performances.
Beth Katleman highlights the contrasts between public and private personas as well as the polite veneer of Pendleton House and the disreputable and mysterious aspects of a collector’s past. Situated in the decorative-arts wing, Games of Chance is an intricate porcelain room replete with mirrors, architectural ornaments, and over-door sculptures cast by the artist in white porcelain from flea-market trinkets, toys, dolls, and pop icons. Embellishing the story, a film animates a fictional account of the room’s existence since the 19th century, and recent discovery and reassembly at the museum.
Simone Leigh considers approaches artists have shared over thousands of years and questions how instances of colonialism and cultural imperialism seen in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome continue to frame contemporary experiences. Situated in galleries devoted to ancient art, The Chorus includes new figurative work by Leigh and sculptures from the collection by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Janine Antoni, Huma Bhabha, and David Hammons. An accompanying sound piece includes readings that contemplate the experiences and torments of people of color—particularly women—engaged in manual labor willingly or under varying degrees of duress.
Sebastian Ruth reflects on aesthetic witnessing and the role of tradition by drawing upon the work of educator John Dewey and philosopher Maxine Greene. Witnessing includes an original musical composition Ruth set to the cycle of a day that unfolds over Providence’s pulsing smokestack lights. Prints, photographs, and wallpaper representing smokestacks and factory scenes, images of trees next to water, a cluster of chairs that nod to Warhol’s original 1970 Raid installation—how are these possibilities for seeing differently? In the publication, readers are invited to practice aesthetic witnessing and meditate on their relationship to tradition.
Paul Scott juxtaposes early 19th-century printed tablewares drawn from museum storage with altered antique ceramics re-worked by selective erasure, re-glazing, and newly printed imagery. In the gallery and online, New American Scenery addresses industrial dereliction, borders, the physical manifestations of climate change, energy generation and consumption, and the ongoing legacies of invasion, slavery, and racism. Online, Scott shares the origins of his transferware interest, extensive travels throughout America, and the way in which the experiences informed this work through interviews and videos.
Triple Canopy considers the role of early American decorative arts in the formation of a common identity. Can I Leave You? includes sound and video installations that center on the efforts of colonial-era European Americans to define themselves through products and portrayals of China as represented in American decorative arts. The installation includes a capsule collection and campaign video by the collective and fashion label CFGNY (Concept Foreign Garments New York), which provide an uncanny reflection on the museum objects that surround them.
The digital publication will continue evolving, with new content added through February 2020.
On April 16, join the artists at the RISD Museum for a Raid the Icebox Now party. This and all related programming is free and open to the public, with conversations, performances, and participatory activations for all. *Canceled due to COVID-19*
Raid the Icebox Now is made possible by a lead grant from the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the RISD Museum Associates, Judy and Robert Mann, Taylor Box Company, and a generous in-kind gift from Meyer Sound Laboratories.