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Indepth Arts News:

"First Sight – An Encyclopedia of Childhood"
2003-09-12 until 2004-01-04
Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland
Cleveland, OH, USA United States of America

San Francisco-based artist Dale Kistemaker recalls his 1950’s Northeast Ohio childhood in an exhibition entitled, First Sight – An Encyclopedia of Childhood. About this body of work, Artweek writes, From Scrabble to scribbles…Kistemaker’s compelling black-and-white photographs are masterful exercises in economy, elegance and presence…one is continually struck by the uncanny design sense and inherent aesthetic properties of these ordinary objects dating from half a century ago…. The exhibition, curated by Associate Curator Amy Gilman, will remain on view at MOCA Cleveland through January 4, 2004.

A photographic time capsule, Kistemaker’s images document a treasure trove of objects his parents lovingly saved from his youth including clothing, toys, books, games, sheet music from music lessons and model railroad sets – and yet his process of photographing each object removes any sentimentality or nostalgia. Through Kistemaker’s objective photographic style in which each work is a life-sized rendition of the object – bib overalls, a stuffed terrier doll, a toy railroad track – centered in its frame without any outside context, his autobiographical source material takes on the quality of collective memory.

Though the Greek etymology of the word is interpreted as a circular education, we know the modern meaning of the term encyclopedia as a book or multiple volumes containing articles on various topics covering all branches of knowledge, or occasionally on one topic. Kistemaker’s encyclopedia is entirely visual. However, the purpose is not as solely documentary as it might originally appear. Kistemaker is clearly working within and referencing art history as well as the baby boomer culture he grew up within. Through his photographic techniques, toys take on abstract qualities. Seen out of context these photographs are homage to 1960s Minimalist work, or Robert Rauschenberg’s combine paintings or even the Neo-Geo 1980s. These references to art history are additional clues to the fact that this collection of images cannot be seen simply or solely as documents of a childhood – they offer the adult’s perspective on these old companions.

Kistemaker’s works are experienced best together – browsing from one image to the next there is a slow, steady, accumulative effect and then quite unexpectedly one suddenly realizes a feeling of familiarity, of knowing this person, this childhood. Kistemaker’s photographs are at once many things: specific icons from the artist’s childhood, remnants of mid-20th century America and references to icons of the art historical past. Each dramatically lovely image implies its own story, its own entry into the encyclopedia of childhood. But to see them simply as individual objects would be to miss the point entirely. While easily existing as separate pieces they also and inextricably are a part of the whole – remnants of childhood, clues to the adult encountering them again, references to the history of art and culture in the 20th century and finally the smallest hints that transport viewers into their own memories and stories.

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