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Furniture-Based Sculpture at the AU Museum

By Maggie Barrett

Courtney Smith. Atelier Móvel (Movable Studio), 2009. MDF and white lacquer.110 x 110 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Courtney Smith. Atelier Móvel (Movable Studio), 2009. MDF and white lacquer.110 x 110 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Finding new uses for old furniture is hardly a new concept, but most of the time, the “new uses” are simply someone else taking ownership of the item and using it in the customary way. A dresser, even if refinished or repaired, is still used in its original form—intact, with drawers holding clothing, linens, or any other variety of household items we wish to store.

But artist Courtney Smith, known for her furniture-based sculpture, sees dressers, cabinets, bureaus, and other ordinary domestic items that populate our interior spaces as potential pieces of new works of art.  

Smith’s new exhibition, Courtney Smith: Insatiable Spaces, open at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center beginning Saturday, October 29, examines how space takes its form only according to the objects that bound it.

As described by the artist: “I have also been thinking about the psychological impulse to fill or draw up empty space into implicit subdivisions, like imaginary rooms. In this work I chose to use vertical lines, connecting floor to ceiling, as spatial markers, so resembling a colonnade, or a forest, each hollow can be perceived as a metaphorical enclosure. The columns function both as spatial demarcation and concrete objects; linear and laden. They create and consume the space around them.”

Nicole Eisenman: Works on Paper, a second new exhibition, opens alongside Courtney Smith: Insatiable Spaces at the American University Museum on Saturday, October 29.

Nicole Eisenman’s works have been described as cartoonish, humorous, and clever, but Eisenman has also described her work as “decidedly queer.” Eisenman is known for skewering topics ranging from art history to gender stereotypes, frequently incorporating references to popular as well as lesbian culture.

Eisenman uses humor to lure in a wide audience with the intent of making them think twice.

“Humor brings people into a piece and then they’ll scratch their head and think: ‘Wow, what am I laughing at? Maybe this is really not so funny,’” she told the late writer William Harris for a New York Times article.

Eisenman is one of numerous artists whose work will be included in the forthcoming exhibition The Air We Breathe at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  The exhibition, open Saturday, November 5, 2011 through February 20, 2012, reflects on equal rights for same-sex couples, including the right to marry.

Both the Smith and Eisenman exhibitions opening at the American University Museum are held in conjunction with the American University Department of Art’s Colloquia for Critical Inquiry artist speaker series (Smith spoke on campus Tuesday, September 20; Eisenman will speak in the Katzen Arts Center’s Abramson Family Recital Hall at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 28) and AU’s second annual Feminist Art History Conference (Friday, November 4, through Sunday, November 6).  

Four exhibitions that opened Saturday, September 3—Inner Piece: Works from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Re-viewing Documentary: The Photographic Life of Louise Rosskam,Wayne Barrar: An Expanding Subterra, and Seismic Dream—remain open at the American University Museum.

All six exhibitions, including Courtney Smith: Insatiable Spaces and Nicole Eisenman: Works on Paper, close Wednesday, December 14.

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call 202-885-1300.