A Denison University art professor, Joy Sperling, curated a delightful show at the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College. Tchotchke: Mass-Produced Sentimental Objects in Contemporary Art is a group show of contemporary artists who have taken the mass-produced, the kitsch, from low-brow junk to high-brow sculpture.

Dr. Sperling took her Denison classes to see the show and I know three artists’ works really resonated with the students because they all wanted to do research projects on them.

Yoko Inoue is a Japanese-born artist whose work instantly smacks of criticism on consumerism. On closer look, you begin to also consider religion, politics, and the global economy. Inoue talked at Kenyon and the presentation was written up in the college newspaper.

detail from Mandala Flea Market Mutants: Pop Protocol and Seven Transformations of Good Luck National Defense Cats, 2012
This is a detail of Inoue’s wall of ceramic masks. I wasn’t familiar with all of the images, but many seemed to reflect cartoon characters. They are child-sized.
Mummified Bunny, 2012 by Inoue

Another favorite of the students was another ceramic artist, Beth Katleman. I was unfamiliar with her work before this exhibit and I’m completely thrilled to learn of her! Katelman’s work is about gender, excess, and innocence. I immediately thought of Henry Darger‘s Vivian Girls fighting the calvary. This is certainly because of the imagery in Katleman’s ceramics but also because of the noticeable attention to detail.

detail from Katleman's Girls at War, 2012
detail from Katleman’s Girls at War, 2012
detail from Katleman’s Girls at War, 2012
detail from Katleman’s Girls at War, 2012

Lastly, students were introduced to an old favorite of mine, Betye Saar. Saar’s work is clearly about race, but through the lens of consumerism. She uses black collectibles – caricatures of African Americans produced as cheap, ugly humor objects for a white audience – to speak about race, gender, and history. Her objects are at once obvious, but become so layered that you spend time in awe at the complexity.

Saar’s Rhythem & Blues, 2010
Saar’s Weight of Time, 2013

The show is well-executed in selection of artists and arrangement of the work. Each work is distinct yet works in narrative with other objects in the rooms. It’s a show where you can move from the gallery’s front to back, then back to the front and suddenly turn around to head back again. I’m glad I had a chance to see it and to know that students were introduced to so many great artists.