PLATFORM 12: Aaron Stephan Secondhand Utopias

DeCordova Exhibits
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On View Jul 10, 2013 - Apr 01, 2014

Aaron Stephan recreates iconic twentieth-century sculptures in the everyday materials of deCordova’s architecture and facilities. Stephan uses the Sculpture Park’s railings and trash barrels to recontextualize modern sculptural masterpieces into the reality of a working sculpture park. In doing so, the installation explores how these abstract forms, embodying utopian ideals that have informed the history of contemporary sculpture, can live within their environment rather than outside of it.

The three-part installation begins on the Rappaport Rooftop Terrace with Monument on a Museum, a tongue-in-cheek recreation of Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructivist model, Tatlin’s Tower, for the Monument to the Third International (1919-20). Never built, the structure embodied the ideals of Soviet Socialism—the power of the common man within a new, modern world—through an avant-garde design of a twin helix tower made of glass, steel, and iron. Here, Stephan translates this humanistic optimism into handrails and wood, as if it sprouted from the Museum rooftop.

Moving along the timeline of art history is Untitled (16 Garbage Cans), located on the Sculpture Park Terrace. In this installation Stephan uses the shape of the Sculpture Park’s boxy metal trashcans to riff on Donald Judd’s repetitive, machine-made boxes that formed the cornerstone of Minimalist art and sculpture of the 1960s. Stephan, like Judd, uses serial, manufactured forms to explore the potential beauty of the mass produced object and the physicality of abstraction.

In the Sculpture Park, sited on a hill leading up to Sculpture Park Terrace, is Spilled Paint, inspired by Robert Smithson’s Glue Pour (1970) and Asphalt Rundown (1969). A key figure in the Earth Art movement of the 1970s, Smithson’s work utilized the landscape and the natural processes of gravity and entropy. Spilled Paint uses Smithson’s gesture of pouring but does so with the Museum’s gallery wall paint, Benjamin Moore’s atrium white, spilled down the hillside.

In each project, Stephan re-inscribes key moments in modern sculpture with the work-a-day material of an art museum and park, emphasizing the unglamorous and very functional side of art and the context in which it is viewed. Whereas many look at the museum and the art within it as a type of idealized space, Stephan notices the railings and trashcans and gallons of white paint in the back room that make these pristine gallery spaces and conditions possible. It is this, his installations argue, that may be the true history of art.

Stephan notes: “In my installation, I focus on the use of sculpture as an idealized or utopian space that is expressed through form. I have appropriated a group of iconic twentieth-century sculptures and contextualized them in the site. It could be said that the alleged autonomy of the borrowed form is corrupted by the reality of an everyday context. Hopefully these new works will explore the possibility of utopian form that stands within its environment rather than outside of it.”

Spilled Paint is no longer on view beginning September 25, 2013.
Monument on a Museum and Untitled (16 Garbage Cans) will be on view until April 1, 2014.

The 2012–2013 PLATFORM series is generously funded by James and Audrey Foster. 

Aaron Stephan (b. 1974, Springville, NY) lives and works in Portland, ME. He received his  B.F.A. in sculpture from SUNY Purchase College in 1996, and M.F.A. from Maine College of Art, Portland, ME in 2002. His work has been shown in the Portland Museum of Art, The Institute of Contemporary Art Portland, The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and recently contributed to the Percent for Art Projects in Biddeford, ME.

Artist Talk
September 14, 2 pm
Meet the artist behind three new site-specific artworks in the Sculpture Park and on the Rappaport Roof Terrace. Aaron Stephan will offer the inside perspective on the artist’s work, process, and art historical inspirations. The walking artist tour will begin on the roof and proceed to additional sites in the Sculpture Park.