The International Museum of Art & Science is pleased to announce ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, through more than 40 inspiring paintings, sculptures, works on paper and photographs. Curated by Jared Packard-Winkler and organized for tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington D.C., ReTooled is on view at the IMAS from March 10 through July 1, 2018.
ReTooled celebrates the prevalence of tools in our lives with art that magically transforms utilitarian objects into fanciful works that speak of beauty, insight, and wit. Providing a dynamic entry point into the rich themes, materials and processes of 20th century art, ReTooled profiles 28 visionary artists from the Hechinger Collection including major artists such as Arman, Richard Estes, Howard Finster, Red Grooms, Jacob Lawrence, Fernand Léger and H.C. Westermann; photographers Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans; as well as pop artists Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist. The exhibition consists of four sections: Objects of Beauty; Material Illusions; Instruments of Satire; and Tools: An Extension of Self.
Objects of Beauty
Hechinger’s quest to amass a preeminent art collection unifying the theme of tools rested on a notion that everyday instruments could be objects of beauty. In portraying these objects with a tone of reverence, the artists separate object from function producing works that meditate on tools’ distilled purity of design. By photographing a mundane tool in Wrench (1955), Walker Evans encourages the viewer to appreciate the beauty of line and economy of form.
In the photograph, Spinning Wrench (1958), Berenice Abbott contemplates the elegance of a wrench as it dances across the frame lulling the viewer with its hypnotic movement. Jim Dine’s series of ten works, Toolbox (1966) riff on the theme of beauty by placing screen print images of tools in austere yet dynamic compositions that assert
Dine’s status as a leading pop artist. These artists underscore the overlooked beauty of objects that facilitate our everyday lives.
In this section artists modify and distort everyday tools to question their functionality. By reimaging a tool in a material that renders it useless, the artist questions how we interact with that object. In Allan Adams’ sculpture, Lathe (1979), the artist subverts our initial recognition of a mechanized lathe by producing this sculptural homage in an unexpected medium: maple wood. Adams reminds the viewer that first impressions can be deceiving. A vignette of an oak-fashioned lawnmower in F.L. Wall’s Summer Tool (1983) takes on a cynical tone as the tool reduces each unique blade of grass to a uniform height—perhaps a commentary on how products of industrialization simultaneously unify and standardize. Each carefully fabricated work in this section contrasts their mass-produced counterparts that lie dusty in our garages. Transforming the tool into art also highlights how our increasingly clean, digital lives are detached from the calloused, tool-wielding hands that laid the foundation for modern society; making a hammer unusable by constructing it in glass, as in Hans Godo Frabel’s Hammer and Nails (1980), parallels a hammer’s irrelevance in a computer-driven era.
Instruments of Satire
While some work, artists play. The artists in this section repurpose, reframe, and redefine tools by injecting a dose of irreverent humor into an otherwise work-driven world. By tracing the way brushes whimsically dance across the canvas Arman’s Blue, Red, Brown (1988) reminds us that the fundamental purpose of tools—to execute action—can be fun. Claes Oldenburg playfully heroizes a mundane object in the portrait Three-way plug (1965) by imbuing an overlooked item with a larger-than-life status. Other artists juxtapose objects to create humorous dissonances. In Trash Can in the Grass-Calix Krater (1977), James Rosenquist audaciously decorates a simple trash can with ancient Greek imagery to elevate it to a Calix Krater—a vessel from antiquity. These works remind us of the joy and sense of play that defines creation.
Tools: An Extension of Self
Tools have the capacity to actualize dreams. They embody the can-do spirit that defines America and symbolize our unalterable quest to improve our quality of life. The artists in this section illustrate how tools are an extension of ourselves, both as individuals and as a society. In his work The Slob (1965), H.C. Westermann endows a hammer with personality by showing how a tool conveys the characteristics of its wielder. Jacob Lawrence and Fernand Léger astutely observe how tools shape identity by defining professions in Carpenters (1977) and Les Constructeurs, (1951). Howard Finster credits tools with advancing civilization by scrawling “tools came first and
America was built second,” on a Stanley Thrift saw. Tools do the work that our fragile bodies cannot. Becoming surrogate limbs, tools compensate for our weaknesses and facilitating our greatest achievements. These artists are keenly aware of how tools represent human nature.
John Hechinger’s father founded the Hechinger Hardware store in 1911, but it was John Hechinger along with his brother-in-law who grew the store into a renowned chain throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Hechinger is often credited as one of the major figures in the transformation of the neighborhood hardware store to the “do it yourself” home improvement business. A fourth generation Washingtonian, community patron and activist, John Hechinger was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to be the first chairman of the D.C. City Council. He used his position to advocate for civil rights and diverse neighborhoods. Hechinger’s donation of his collection to IA&A for the purpose of sharing it with a broader public is yet another invaluable legacy.
In the 1980s, John Hechinger’s booming chain of hardware stores led him to purchase a new company headquarters. He found the offices to be efficient, but sterile. The barren space sparked an initiative to beautify the headquarters which launched Hechinger’s acquisition of a tool-inspired collection of diverse 20th century art.
ReTooled is a dynamic exhibition with a compelling mission: to celebrate an overlooked subject by engaging audiences with wildly creative and thought provoking works that highlight formative trends of 20th century art.
Currently scheduled tour dates for ReTooled include: Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi TX (January 24, 2019 –April 28, 2019). For an Updated tour schedule, please visit http://www.artsandartists.org/exhibitions-retooled.php
ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Gift of John and June Hechinger.
International Arts & Artists in Washington, DC is a non-profit arts service organization dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally through exhibitions, programs and services to artists, art institutions and the public. Visit www.artsandartists.org