Anxious Objects:
Willie Cole's Favorite Brands

Artist's Influences: Western Art

Found on pages 4 & 5 in the Educator Packet (link at right).

The phrase “Anxious Objects” comes from The Anxious Object: Art Today and Its Audience, a collection of essays by Harold Rosenberg, a prominent American art critic of the mid-20th century. Cole chose the phrase for this exhibition’s title in part as an homage to the artist Jasper Johns and Johns’s use of objects in his artworks. (Read below about Johns under “Pop Art.”)

Modernism: The early 20th century was a time in which modern art in Europe and the United States ventured beyond representative, descriptive realism and began to explore the concept of art and the ways in which subjects could be depicted. Modern art places emphasis on depicting emotions and new ways of seeing through abstractions.

  • Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist who is considered one of the most prolific of the 20th century. Picasso explored many art formats and media, and is most famous in his early career for creating the style known as cubism, which led to creating the technique of collage as well. Picasso is also well known for “Africanizing” his artwork; he spent time studying African art and bringing similar
    elements of abstraction into his own artwork.
  • Dada was an artistic movement in the early 20th century. Protesting World War I, Dada artists tried to embody nonsense and anti-art in their work. Dada artists rejected traditional aesthetics and pushed the boundaries of art in forms like collage, where they used materials from everyday newspapers and magazines. Dada later influenced Surrealism and Pop Art.
  • Marcel Duchamp was a French artist associated with Dada and Surrealist movements. Marcel Duchamp created ready-mades by taking found objects and presenting them as art. He is famous for his piece Fountain, a urinal he found, labeled as art, and sent to an exhibition. Sometimes Duchamp would modify these ready-mades in one way or another. But often, he would leave them as he found them.

The American Civil Rights and Black Power Movement was a reform movement of the people of the United States towards equality, to remove racial discrimination from social and working life. Though the movement’s beginnings were marked by nonviolence, some leaders in the Civil Rights Movement
believed that more militant tactics were necessary in order to achieve this equality. Cole was greatly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and creates many images influenced by the Movement’s figures and ideas. (See Rosa Parks in the exhibition.)

  • African Diaspora defines the movement and relocation of Africans and their descendants throughout the world. Much of the African Diaspora is descended from those who had been enslaved in the period before the American Civil War. Cole focuses much of his artwork on themes related to the African Diaspora. (see Cole’s piece Stowage.)
  • Lawn Jockeys, cast iron figures that were once popular lawn ornaments, are both symbols of racism and resistance in the African American culture. Their story originated during the American Revolution where General George Washington asked a jockey boy to watch his horse. Washington returned later to find that not only was the horse frozen, but the boy had stayed on duty and was also frozen to death. Cast-iron jockeys displayed on a lawn signified to many African Americans that a racist person lived at that address. However, during the Civil War, Harriet Tubman helped bring slaves to safety using lawn jockeys as secret sign posts. The complexity of mixed associations with these figures is reflected in Cole’s work (see House and Field in the exhibition.)
  • Malcolm X was an American Black Muslim minister who in his early years was a significant supporter of the Black Power movement. Malcolm X later broke with the Nation of Islam and began to preach human rights and cooperation among mankind. (see Cole’s piece Malcolm’s Chickens.)
  • Rosa Parks became famous for disregarding segregation law in Alabama by ignoring a bus driver and beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience movement in the Civil Rights Movement. (see Cole’s piece Rosa Parks and look for the roses at her “ears”)

Pop Art is an art movement (1950s–1960s) that borrowed images from mass popular culture to emphasize the garish and gaudy elements of society. Its emphasis on commercial items and repetition of iconic imagery influenced Cole in his use of commercial items as materials and repetition of these items
in his own work.

  • Jasper Johns (b. 1930) is an American artist who uses classic iconic imagery, like the American flag and map of the United States to present paradoxes and contradictions not criticizing the subject, but merely neutralizing it by questioning it. Cole expands on Johns’ method of distortion in his own technique and by using similar imagery as Johns. (see Cole’s How do You Spell ‘America’? #2 and America I).
  • Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a central figure in Pop Art. His work revolves around icons and mass production. Warhol focuses on making his work look as though it was factory produced without any artist overseeing the project. He used repeated imagery to create a commentary on how commercial culture could affect a subject. Cole drew from Warhol’s method using shoes to make a chair, called Made in the Philippines, commenting on the reign of Marcos, or a gas hose in Gas Snake with Blue Nozzle as a commentary on US action in the Middle East.
  • Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (b. 1942) make large-scale artworks that are displayed in all sorts of public, accessible locations, including the Floating Peel in the Cantor Arts Center’s courtyard. Oldenburg is famous for taking everyday objects and magnifying them to colossal sizes, creating soft objects to resemble normally solid materials, or creating rigid sculpture to resemble normally soft items. Cole imitates this aesthetic in his reconstruction of giant irons, though Cole uses found materials to create his sculptures. (see Cole’s 600% and Mother and Child).

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