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Re-appropriating the mundane: Frances Trombly’s “Thinking of Things” at David Castillo Gallery

Frances Trombly’s current exhibition “Thinking of Things,” at David Castillo Gallery is a careful and clever examination of the ‘art object’ that brings up issues that have long been simmering in modern and contemporary art.

The work includes derisory objects lying scattered across the gallery space as if discarded or accidentally dropped there – a collapsed cardboard box, notebook papers, a blue tarpaulin, mops, and even receipts from familiar stores like Publix Supermarket. The fact that each one has been carefully hand loomed in woven fabric isn’t discernible until one arrives within a couple of feet of the object. Once you have understood the game, it shifts to an exercise of scrutinizing each work in an attempt to decipher exactly how it was made and how it is different from the object that it mimics.

Because the objects are copies of insignificant disposables commonly associated with derogatory chores, the viewer is obliged to consider the various qualities that make an object valuable, worthy of inquiry, inspiring, stimulating, and of course, by virtue of its presence in a gallery, worth owning.

In the course of the past year, British artist Damien Hirst – currently one of contemporary art’s most mediatic and commercially viable players – produced a solid platinum cast of an antique human (Caucasian) skull encrusted in a continuous pavure of diamonds, which he described as ‘the most expensive work of contemporary art.’

In spite of its apparent ironic references to a runaway contemporary art market, Hirst’s most significant contribution with this piece was an inescapable defiance of what has long been the defining nature of ‘art.’ Namely that an object is able to transcend its material value because it’s perceived worth cannot not be measured by how much paint or marble was used, or how long it took to create, but rather only by the sublime visual and intellectual satisfaction it could generate.

Perhaps more importantly for minimal and conceptual art, Hirst’s skull denies the pre-eminence of ‘the idea’ over ‘the object’ and even the craft evident in the execution of the work – placing the craftsmanship of the fine jeweler alongside the ‘cash’ value of the diamonds and platinum at the center of Hirst’s creation.

Unsurprisingly the diamond skull has attracted an enormous amount of attention – if only to be described as ‘vulgar’ and ‘obscene’ in some quarters – but its importance to this moment in art will no doubt become more apparent when, with the merciful passing of time, we are able to gain a bit more perspective.

In the meantime Trombly’s work, which is perhaps equal in compulsiveness to Hirst’s skull, seems to make the opposite point that ‘art (or even non-art) objects’ ultimately have an arbitrary, transferable value. Unlike Hirst’s ‘most expensive work’ Trombly seems to insist that this value may be found in unlikely places. Furthermore her insistence upon evoking such humble objects seems a clear assertion that for her the ‘idea’ does indeed supersede the ‘object.’

I could be argued that Trombly’s insistence on the ‘idea’ may not be particularly innovative after Robert Smithson’s rocks reflected against mirrors, or even Mario Merz’s stacks of newspaper and neon in the 1970’s, nevertheless there remains to be a quiet and uniquely humorous aspect to her handmade debris. The reverence involved in fabricating these objects seems ultimately to belie their disposability; implying that even basic utilitarian items might be too good to throw away. Or conversely that disposing of any object, no matter how derisory, is regrettable, which seems to give this body of work a subtle tinge of ‘green’ in a refreshingly untrendy way.

Although Trombly’s works do evoke the humble liberties of Arte Povera, the fact that they are each copies of actual objects seems to tie them more closely to the Simulationists of the late1980’s, or Helen Sturtevant’s annoying copies of masterpieces that haunt our need to securitize objects and convert them into investments.

Ultimately Trombly’s objects are a more pointed response to an art market that many feel may has over-objectified the ‘art object’ and diminished the value of the ‘idea.’ Happily her work is arguably more interesting than Hirst’s ‘most expensive’ skull because in the tenderness doted on her re-appropriated scraps she acutely demonstrates the value of the ‘idea’ whereas Hirst has simply created an object where, as one critic aptly put it “the price tag is the art”.

That said, it would be incorrect to suggest that Trombly’s work, at least at this stage in her career, would be a better investment than Hirst’s; so take your pick. In my opinion, one can argue at length which work has the greater, current significance to the contemporary art world, but not about which has greater aesthetic value.

“Thinking of Things” at David Castillo Gallery (2234 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33127) closes on June 7th, 2008.

- David Rohn

This text was contributed to ARTLURKER by Guest Writer, Miami based artist David Rohn.

For more information on Frances Trombly please visit:

For more information on David Rohn please visit our ‘Guest Writers’ section or:

For more information on David Castillo Gallery please visit:

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Re-appropriating the mundane: Frances Trombly’s “Thinking of Things” at David Castillo Gallery