American decorative arts and Eastern European collective art will be featured in two separate exhibits that open the 2001-02 season on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery. Popular American culture mirrored in products that decorated homes in the last century is the subject of American Vision: The Democratization of Design in the 20th Century.
The exhibit showcases the collection of Harrisville resident Léandre Poisson, who has acquired over 1,000 objects ranging from designer Gilbert Rohde's 1933 Z Chair to collectibles such as a 1959 Philco Predicta television and a flower vase fashioned to resemble Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
These items are symbols and tools of American life. They show how we saw ourselves and how we lived in the 20th century, explains Poisson.
The reception will also introduce a mixed-media exhibition created by the Eastern European artists' collective Neue Slowenische Kunst, known as NSK in the West. NSK Retro-Spection: Selected Works by Laibach and Irwin includes paintings, prints, and videos produced and signed by the main NSK groups Laibach and Irwin. All works are produced by the two groups; individual artists are not identified. This exhibition is intended to foster a cross-cultural dialogue between East and West about larger issues of art production, collective versus individual creation, and the relationship between art and society in both parts of the world. The Thorne is presenting the exhibit in support of the Keene State College Commission on the Status of Diversity and Multiculturalism.
The NSK movement includes visual as well as performing arts and political elements, says Maureen Ahern, director of the Thorne gallery. NSK sprang from the political and social upheaval in the former Yugoslavia, particularly in Slovenia, one of five countries created from the larger republic. Retro avant-garde is NSK's basic artistic style, based on the premise that traumas from the past affecting the present and the future can be healed only by returning to the initial conflicts. For example, an oil painting depicts bombers flying over defiant prisoners of war, each wearing armbands affixed with crosses. These prisoners are the artists who started NSK.
Such artwork stems from the conflicted history of fascism and communism in Eastern Europe. Most of the images will be recognizable, but may have a different emotional impact and interpretation for an American audience. Various interpretations interest NSK because the exhibit is meant to overcome perceptions of fear and prejudice towards avant-garde art in the 20th century.
Artistic creation inspired by technology and design rather than politics is seen in the American Vision exhibit, which documents 100 years of products designed by individuals for the masses. A variety of products were massed-produced to be used in homes throughout America. From 1900 to 1930 the rapid growth of industrialization resulted in a counter movement which became known as the Arts and Crafts Movement. When radio, speedy land transportation, and air travel became more common from 1930 to 1960, streamlined design became popular. From 1960 to the end of the century, the visual mediums of television and the Internet helped create a post-modern genre.
Both exhibits will open Saturday, Sept. 8, but the lengths of each show differ. The NSK Retro-Spection exhibit closes Thursday, Oct. 18, and American Vision ends Sunday, Dec. 2. The reception and both exhibits are free and open to the public.