DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park
Lighten Up: Art with a Sense of Humor
February 3 - May 28, 2001
Come to DeCordova and laugh at art! Lighten Up: Art with a Sense of Humor is a national group thematic exhibition that explores the use of humor in American contemporary art. The show will include hilarious paintings, sculpture, photographs, drawings, digital art, video art, and multi-media installations by 16 artists/artist teams.
Lighten Up is focused on artists who consistently employ humor as an overt, rather than a subtle or veiled, strategy in their work. The types of humor represented in Lighten Up include visual and verbal puns, satire, camp, irony, jokes at the expense of contemporary art and art history, the absurd, the bawdy, the unexpected, and the utterly ridiculous. While humor -- often laugh-out-loud humor -- pervades the artistic sensibilities presented in Lighten Up, it does not thoroughly circumscribe the meaning of the artworks. Humor is not valued as an end in itself, but as a means to afford access to a myriad of contemporary issues. By using humor, artists can break down a viewer's resistance, perform an end-run around reason, and create a receptive emotional climate for the delivery of impassioned, provocative, or subversive messages. Themes addressed by the artists in Lighten Up dovetail with many of the serious concerns of contemporary art theory and practice: gender, the body, feminism, personal and cultural identity, geopolitics, art historical revisionism, mass culture and consumerism, rampant technology, and the role of the artist.
Participating artists include established figures, long known for their commitment to humor as a vital means of contemporary expression, as well as emerging artists. Lighten Up includes work by Karl Baden, Teddy Dibble, Karin Giusti, Philip Knell, Cary Leibowitz/Candyass, Christopher " Lucky" Leone, Heidi Marston, Todd McKie, Pat Oleszko, Tom Otterness, Erika Rothenberg, Jeff Smith (CEO of American Emergency Safety Co.), Peter Thibeault, Jeffu Warmouth, William Wegman, and the artist teams of Steve Aishman and Heidi Marston, and Lev and Emre Yilmaz.
Lighten Up is organized by the DeCordova curatorial team of Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, Nick Capasso, George Fifield, and Gillian Nagler, and is accompanied by a full-color exhibition catalogue; the publication has been generously funded by The Lois and Richard England Family Foundation. DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is funded in part by the Institute of Museum Services, a federal agency, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Statement by the Curators:
Steve Aishman and Heidi Marston
"When first meeting someone, it is usually unacceptable to show much more than surface emotion, but it is acceptable to tell a joke. If the other person laughs (in the right amount), then you feel like you know the person on a much deeper, subconscious level. If the other person does not laugh, then you also feel you know the other person, but in this case someone is usually embarrassed and everyone goes home.
For a long time, I would sit at home and tell jokes to myself. I called this series my Lonely Guy series because I didn't have a girlfriend at the time. I wasn't really lonely, in fact I really enjoyed the time that I worked on that series of photographs. Then I met Heidi and on our first date I showed her my Lonely Guy series and she laughed (in the right amount). I didn't have to explain the jokes and she even wanted to help me make more. The series we've done together we call the Heidi + Steve series and they're really just us telling jokes to each other. The two series together bridge a turning point in my life, when I grew out of telling jokes to myself and grew to love the sound of Heidi and me laughing together." (left: Steve Aishman and Heidi Marston, Heidi and Steve, 200, c-print, 16 x 20 inches, Lent by the artist)
"A number of years back I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter. She asked me to characterize my work. I thought about it for a minute, then answered that I was interested in humor, but also in its opposite, and hoped my pictures were both funny and a little scary. When the article appeared in the paper, she had quoted me as follows:
'I try to strike a balance between the horrible and the horrendous.' Since then, I've pretty much given up on trying to be funny." (left: Karl Baden, Badger, Halloween, 1983, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16 inches, Lent by the artist, Courtesy of Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston and Robert Mann. Gallery, New York; right: Karl Baden, Shriners Convention, Boston, 20 x 16 inches, Lent by the artist, Courtesy of Howard Yezerski Gallery, Boston and Robert Mann. Gallery, New York)
Christopher " Lucky" Leone
"My work and life have mixed into a minestrone-like soup (I don't like stew) where life inspires me to experiment with art, and sometimes art drives me to experiment with life. I am a hack scientist with a poor memory for the scientific process. Whether my work is an exercise in futility, or one of general worth, is, of course, questionable. But at least I am working on it.
P.S. If Bobo steals your heart, along with your hubcaps and car radios, I am not responsible." (left: Christopher " Lucky" Leone, Current Weather Conditions, 2000, mixed media, 7 x 6 feet, from the "fun with electricity series," Lent by the artist; right: Rockwells Updated: looking (crap art), 2000, digitally retouched image, 12 x 10 inches)
"I'm often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?' The question has always amused and stumped me, for it seems to presume that there is a central clearing house for ideas, a toll-free number one can call to order ideas for paintings. I wish there were!
I sometimes resort to a couple of stock answers. 'Paris,' I'll say, or 'I buy used ideas from an outfit in the Philippines.'
The truth (and we are on a truth mission here, aren't we?) is more complicated. I look at art by Eskimos, Africans, Pre-Columbians, Mesopotamians, Miró, Picasso, Dubuffet, children, mental patients, and those nutty Etruscans. I live my little life. And I draw a lot. From this rich and messy stew, spiced with pain and pleasure, come my ideas." (left: Todd McKie, It's Alright, He's French, 1999, flashe, 30 x 24 inches, Lent by the artist)
"Remember: 'You are what you eat.'
Special Savings on your favorite Jeffu parts! Tripe! Just a dollar! Sweetbreads! Only $2.99! Crushed Resolve! Free! Just 35 cents! Save on products below with with these valuable coupons! SuperJeffuMarket will not be undersold on Jeffu! We'll match any major competitor's coupon, clipless coupon or advertised price on Jeffu! Limit 1 per customer, please. (left: Jeffu Warmouth, SuperJeffuMarket, 2000-2001, detail, mixed media installation, 10 x 25 x 5 feet, Lent by the artist)
I populate a mock-supermarket by recreating myself as a series of consumer goods. These cans and boxes are media, transmitting language, photography, and cultural and corporate symbols with more vigor than their vinegar contents. In the consumer age we devour media. I want to invert this process. I want to excrete media. Rather than be re-constituted by these products that I ingest and invest in, I want to put a little bit of me in every can. You are what I eat.
Buy my Products!
"The Hardly family spends its summers at the Hardly Inn on Rangeley Lake, where the Boys play tennis, croquet, badminton, and hunt butterflies. Following in their mother's footsteps, the Hardly Boys have also become avid amateur detectives; last summer they solved the Wamco case. To honor the Boys' timely detective work, Chet's Aunt Gladiola invites the Boys to lunch. After a canoe trip across the lake to Aunt Gladiola's, the Boys find themselves in the midst of a mysterious and evil plot masterminded by the Nurse and the Caretaker. Where's Aunt Gladiola? What is happening at Aunt Gladiola's garnet mine? Why is the town water supply threatened . . ." (left: William Wegman, Spy vs. Spy II, 1996, color Polaroid print, 27 1/4 x 21 1/2 inches, Collection of DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA)
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