Let Them Eat Cake

November 30th – January 21st, 2017
Events, Exhibitions

Curated by Kimberly McKinnis
On view: November 30 - January 21, 2017
Opening reception: November 30 from 6-8pm

There are few mediums like glass, which can capture the magnificence of light. Lavish craftsmanship layered with rich color is easily devoured. However any type of extravagance can soon become gluttony. Let Them Eat Cake, contemplates the innate beauty of the glass medium and our insatiable appetites as humans. Curated by Kimberly McKinnis, this exhibition attempts to create a conversation about human desire and the delicate balance between decadence and degradation, featuring artists using glass to explore excess, ego, voyeurism and overconsumption while pushing the limits of ornamentation. Do we indulge along with the artists’ innate desire to adorn, or are we called to a higher morality? 

Participating artists include: Michele Bisaillon, Amber Cowan, Matt Eskuche, Gayle Forman, Kit Paulson, Suzanne M. Peterson, Alexander Rosenberg, Avery Shaffer and Nanda Soderberg

About the curator: Kimberly McKinnis is an artist and curator originally from Southern California. She holds a BFA in studio art with a concentration in glass and an MFA in Exhibition Design both from the California State University in Fullerton, California. As member of the curatorial team Day Job Projects, she has been organizing exhibitions in and around Orange County since 2012. Recently she has returned to making her own artwork which focuses on themes of identity, introspection, and exploring preconceived notions of beauty through symmetry. In her personal studio practice she utilizes a variety of media including silver, glass, video and performance and has been exhibited nationally and internationally including in publications such as the, New Glass Review. She currently resides in Norfolk, Virginia and is the MFA traveling assistant at the Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio.

“Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!”

I first viewed Gayle Forman’s video piece, Balanced Meal, last winter. As she sits inside the Palace of Versailles, behind a lavish display of decadent cuisine that sits atop balancing tableware, the artist (dressed for the occasion) dines stoically as the precarious vessels spill and splash about the table; she is seemingly ambivalent of the ensuing mess. Watching her eerie composure, in what should have been a chaotic scene brought my thoughts to the bigger mess of what the world may be headed for in the next 50 years.

Growing up amidst the hazy city skyline of Los Angeles I was acutely aware of the impact of humans on the planet. Living next to a highway deepened my understanding of the ever-present pollution that exists within urban areas. It wasn’t until my teens that the consequences of the industrial revolution were identified as ‘global warming,’ a term which was met with skepticism and doubt. Now in my adulthood, the overconsumption of the planet, and its looming changes are almost uncontested, having now created repercussions for future generations.

The phrase, Let them eat cake!, is often misattributed to Marie Antoinette. It was first recorded as an anecdote in Confessions, the autobiography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translated to English as “Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche." In some instances it has come to playfully signify a celebrated frivolousness and extravagance, but in reality its inception was and remains an example of the ignorance that the upper classes have to the plight of the poor.

As I surf the web on my phone I can’t help but think of how much technology has changed our world in the few decades since the integration of computers into our daily lives. But with any progress comes consequences. In January of this year Amnesty International released a report that “documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” An elemental part of the lithium-ion batteries inside our mobile phones and laptops, cobalt mining has had a negative impact in third world countries where health and safety regulations are non-existent. As much as I am emotionally moved to hear the human cost of my iPhone, I don’t think I will be giving it up anytime soon, would you? Our creature comforts have become staples of life, necessary for travel navigation, daily communication, documentation, as well as a vital source for news and information—a modern day Swiss Army Knife.

Inspired by the curious nature of a decadent dinner party for one, this exhibition, Let Them Eat Cake, attempts to create a conversation about human desire and the delicate balance between decadence and degradation, featuring artists that explore the paradoxes of excess including but not limited to ego, voyeurism and overconsumption. There are few mediums like glass, which can capture the magnificence of light. I invite you to contemplate the innate beauty of these works and our insatiable appetites as humans.


About the artists:

Michele Bisaillon is an Instagram Artist from California who goes by the handle @michele_e_b. As of November, of 2016 she is followed by almost 70,000 people on the social media platform. Her work is soft, surrealist, and has undertones of the Tumblr, sea punk subculture. She explores the language of ‘selfie’ culture and femininity with the use of props such as flowers, balloons, mirrors, and her cat, Peach. Michele’s work is purely digital, unedited and has been featured in various publications including Nylon Japan and was recently projected at the Tate Britain for their series, Late at Tate.

Amber Cowan’s installation Siphonaea Wall, was created from remnant wine bottles. Layers and layers of rich dark green color exemplify expert craftsmanship and are easily devoured. Her larger body of work, including her Reconstructions, is also made from recycled glass and features antique textures, patterns, and shapes that were once mass-produced in pressed glass factories. Her pieces start with 'objects that may be sentimental to one generation,’ because they represent an industry that has been lost. She is repurposing these objects to make them desirable again. Amber currently teaches at Tyler school of Art in Philadelphia and is represented by Heller Gallery in New York.  

Matt Eskuche’s chandelier piece, Genetically Modified Design, is made from exuded vacu-formed plastic over heaps of his signature flameworked pieces of ‘glass trash’. This series of work was created in reference to the sometimes controversial, ways in which science and technology has come into every aspect of our lives in the 21st Century, including food production. Matt is an avid recycler, however ironically has recently told me that it is only because [he’d] “look like an asshole just throwing it in the trash”.

Gayle Forman is a multi-media artist originally from Pittsburgh, PA. She describes her video work, Balanced Meal, to be about… “objects that are so obsessed with the process of their own making that they destroy themselves”. Her three-dimensional, champagne-fountain, table-scape, is a meditation on the perception of luxury goods in contemporary society and how “lifestyles” are portrayed through social media. Gayle is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She currently works and teaches at the Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio.

Kit Paulson’s delicately designed, flame-worked piece, Crown, is the artist’s very own ode to the intricate craftsmanship of the European gothic cathedrals of the past. She grieves at the contemporary loss of ornamentation in Modernism and pays homage with the decadent headpiece. Her work calls on its viewers to actively look and see. Kit remarks, “I want the viewer to float, lost in rolling waves of detail.” Her caged goblet titled, You Always Want What You Can’t Have, is about the experience of unmet expectations, the nature of needing and wanting and why we as humans yearn for things.

Suzanne Peterson’s performance piece, The Line I'll Straddle, features emerging artists from the White Knight Collective, which is based out of the Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio. For the exhibition’s opening night performers will wear service industry attire embroidered with their respective amount of debt from student loans. They will be passing ‘cheap’ champagne from hand made goblets and glassware collected from glassmakers located all over the U.S. Performers include: James Akers, Jen Detlefsen, Mollie Hansen, Meredith Lopez and Samuel Spees.

Alexander Rosenberg’s work, Pretium Certum Constitutum, is an exquisite corpse ‘super bong’ waiting to be built. According to Rosenberg the piece in an attempt “to create a formal currency, representative of the informal economy that art-glass-pipes currently support”, complete with an bronze minted English Magpie emblem coin, whose value will be determined by the established market value of each ‘piece’. Rosenberg invites participants to explore the new economies of the cannabis and pipe making industries which have had their income rejected by banks that refuse to provide business services for the locally but not yet federally sanctioned dispensaries.

His work reveals how these glassmakers have found an interstice within a traditional economic structure by creating a platform for collecting and collaboration, rewriting the rules of the market and what can be considered ‘art.’ Alex would like to add that, “In light of this country's current political climate, if sold, all artists that participate in this collaborative sculpture will have the option to have their share of the sale contributed to institutions promoting human rights and civil liberties.

Avery Shaffer is a Virginia based glass artist who goes by the pseudonym, ‘Abel Valerie’. His works, Saint Sebastian / EVERLAST and Saint Sebastian / Leather Room, use the lens of Instagram and ‘selfie’ culture to appropriate 17th Century portraits of the Catholic icon. These recreations exchange the martyr story for one of play, sexuality and personal empowerment by building on the homoerotic overtones evident in the original pieces. His kiln-formed glass, Pin-up series, uses small voyeuristic glances at male sexuality. He describes them “like pages ripped out of a magazine”, to play on the idea that the internet, now provides for male erotica what has long been available in magazine form for the sexualized image of the female.

Nanda Soderberg has made work from recycled glass, since 2005. His pieces are remade-readymade, hybrids that speak about the excess and availability of ‘stuff’ that exists in the world today. As a craftsman his work traverses the territorial limits of the functional to navigate the landscape of the conceptual art world, questioning the notions of why we continue to make more. He has harnessed the materiality of a seductive medium and challenged the love affair between maker and vessel, by abandoning the furnace to adopt and elevate found glass objects.

Event Schedule
November 30th – January 21st, 2017
Agnes Varis Art Center
647 Fulton St
Brooklyn, NY 11217