Art of everyday people

The Weisman’s new exhibit focuses on the extraordinary aspects of ordinary life, and vice-versa.

by Mark Brenden

WHAT: Common Sense: Art and the Quotidian WHO: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and more WHEN: Feb. 6 – May 23 WHERE: Weisman Art Museum, 333 East River Pkwy. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, âÄúNothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.âÄù While Emerson may not have been referencing the dirty overalls of America directly, curator Diane Mullin connected the dots for him with her new exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum called âÄúCommon Sense: Art of the Quotidian.âÄù The display gathers a wide range of art that focuses on the gritty intrigue of everyday people as opposed to the posh exclusivity of the elite. Some of the pieces address the common in content and some use medium. Documentary photographs from the Great Depression era depict country folk in the South and the Midwest, while spaghetti sauce and cigarette ashes are the source material for other works. Particular moments in history are preserved with a cartoon from the premier issue of Seventeen Magazine and an auditory piece by Molly Roth in which she eerily recorded herself whispering âÄúgood nightâÄù and âÄúgood morningâÄù each of 365 days. Much of the exhibit focuses on finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. For example, Joel SternfeldâÄôs photograph entitled âÄúExhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, WashingtonâÄù depicts the bizarre occurrence of an escaped circus elephant being taken down on a Washington country road. Also under this category happens to be Andy WarholâÄôs soup can opus âÄúNew England Clam Chowder.âÄùWhile Warhol portrays the ordinary with not-so-ordinary materials, Robert Rauschenberg takes that idea up a step, where both the subject and the material used (cardboard, paper, pencils) are everyday. The result is sophisticated work seemingly made out of Crayola fare. Jan Estep, University of Minnesota associate professor and director of Graduate Studies, contributes the showâÄôs video feature in the âÄúOrdinary LanguageâÄù wing of the exhibit. Her piece explores the topic of time, as she went to a prison in St. Louis and asked inmates to repeat various clichés involving the word âÄútime.âÄù âÄú[My piece] invites an audience to see something ordinary that we take for granted and realize how remarkable it is. Unfortunately, in our culture it is ordinary to be a prisoner âÄî we have a lot of prisoners in America âÄî but for others it could be extraordinary,âÄù she explained. But âÄúCommon SenseâÄù also investigates the ordinary inside of the extraordinary. For example, Nina KatchadourianâÄôs âÄúIndecision of the MoonâÄù is an audio recording of the moon landing played in a room as dark as space. But the listener will not hear âÄúthe eagle has landedâÄù or âÄúone small step for manâÄù because, staying true to the exhibitâÄôs theme, the artist removed all the famous lines. Christopher James, Weisman communications and events director, explained, âÄúThese days, many people are thinking about the extraordinary and the ordinary because of the economy. Since they canâÄôt necessarily achieve the extraordinary as easily, people are trying to find a way to make common things satisfying.âÄù Ladies and gentleman: the art of the Great Recession.