Exhibition Explores the Complex Relationship Between Art, Kitsch, and Popular Culture

  • LOGAN, Utah
  • /
  • January 18, 2016

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Jeffrey Vallance, Connie Chung #3, 1981, 20.5 x 24.5 inches (framed), enamel on board with decals. Collection of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Gift of Larry and Mimi Kennedy Dilg.

A Matter of Taste, an exhibition exploring the complex relationship between art, kitsch, and popular culture opens at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) at Utah State University, January 23 - May 7, 2016. The exhibition showcases a wide range of kitsch, kitsch-like, or kitsch-inspired objects from NEHMA's collection as well as public and private collections dating from the 20th and 21st centuries to reveal the porous boundaries between fine art, kitsch, and culture. Selections include figurines, snow-globes, toy cars, and mass-produced lithographs as well as fine art objects that play upon the accessibility and dominance of kitsch across cultures.

"While a gift shop may seem the more likely place to find kitsch in a museum," said Katie Lee Koven, NEHMA Director and Chief Curator, "this exhibition challenges that perception by exploring questions about how kitsch objects are a reflection of our culture; the connections that can be made between art and kitsch; and how kitsch is perceived differently depending on one's age and cultural background."

"Derived from 'verkitschen' (German for "to make cheap"), kitsch was first used in the 1860s and 1870s to describe art sold in street markets in Germany," explains Rebecca Dunham, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, "While many continue to characterize kitsch as lowbrow, scholars have identified various interpretations of kitsch in the modern and postmodern eras. Kitsch may be an intentional style of the maker, evoking sentimentality or posing an ironic gesture. It may also be defined by technology as kitsch objects are often mass-produced, stimulating the broad diffusion of imagery in the marketplace."

Frank McEntire, Vendora, 2003, plastic candy dispenser, metal stand, and found religious objects, 53 x 23 x 18 inches. Collection of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Charter Member Endowment Purchase.

A Matter of Taste includes more than fifty artworks. Highlights include sculptures by Frank McEntire, an installation by Jean Lowe, screenprints by Richard Pettibone, and paintings by Jeffrey Vallance from NEHMA's permanent collection. The exhibition also includes original paintings by Thomas Kinkade, on loan from the Kinkade Family Foundation in California, the installation of Turbo curated by Aaron Moulton of the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, and a unique selection of Mormon kitsch objects from the Latter Day Saints Church History Library in Salt Lake City. In addition, a section of the exhibition is devoted to various types of reproductions of famous paintings such as Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy (1770); Thomas Lawrence's Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie (1794); Vladimir Grigoryevich Tretchikof's The Chinese Girl (1952); and Jack Vettriano's The Singing Butler (1991 

The presentation of A Matter of Taste will include a symposium of the same title, convening international scholars, curators, and performers to discuss the nature of kitsch and the arts. The symposium will take place at Utah State University on April 7-8, 2016.

Other public programs include an interactive area where visitors can play with board games and puzzles and watch film clips about the objects on display. Visitors will also be invited to participate in a kitsch exchange in the Museum's lobby.

The exhibition was co-organized by Katie Lee Koven, Director and Chief Curator of NEHMA, Rebecca A. Dunham, NEHMA Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, and Dr. David Wall, Assistant Professor in the Utah State University's Department of Art and Design.


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