Models and Prototypes

October 25, 2006 - December 31, 2006
Kemper Art Museum


Models are used as tools in countless professions and academic disciplines. Whether developing a new theory or working on a new building, models help us explore and test new ideas or designs, and as such they include an aspect of experimentation. While sketches, notes, and sculptural maquettes are the kinds of models that traditionally served as preparatory steps in the creative process, artists of the early twentieth century began to think about them as works of art and vastly expanded their use. Examining the development and intersection of artistic approaches to models since the 1920s, Models and Prototypes encompasses a wide range of styles and media -- including installations, sculptural objects, prints, photography, and painting -- and considers them in three interrelated groups: multiple as model, conceptual models, and structural models.

Multiples -- editioned works that critique the status of the unique work of art -- played a seminal role during the twentieth century and became alternative models for artistic production, beginning with the pioneer of the readymade, Marcel Duchamp. Instead of a single precious work, he issued multiples such as his Pocket Chess Set, which was designed in an edition of twenty-five. Duchamp's pioneering work also had important ramifications for artists interested in both conceptual and structural models in subsequent decades and opened the door to entirely new artistic opportunities, notably the application of the multiple in the context of Fluxus and Conceptual art in the 1960s, such as the 1968 SMS portfolios, examples of which will be on display.

Models and Prototypes also includes works by artists who turned to conceptual models and utilized abstract ordering principles such as geometry, mathematical sequences, or the analysis of communication systems as the basis for their work. Alfred Jensen correlated ancient Chinese, Pythagorean, and Mayan numerical systems with temporal or geographic indicators such as calendars, sun dials, compasses, or color theories and created complex abstract compositions, as evidenced in Great Mystery I: The Origin of the Chinese Decimal System (1960). The exhibition also looks at ways in which artists utilized structural models or their schematic representation, including architectural and topographic maquettes. Katrin Sigurdardottirs Green Grass of Home (1997), for instance, is a compact suitcase that can be unfolded. Each compartment contains a topographic landscape alluding to places she visited and recreated from memory.

Models and Prototypes draws predominantly from the Museum's permanent collection and includes works by Wasily Kandinsky, Le Corbusier, Alfred Jensen, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Kosuth, Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Beuys, Jenny Holzer, Isa Genzken, Thomas Demand, and Katrin Sigurdardottir, among others. It is the first Kemper Art Museum exhibition from curator Catharina Manchanda.