Material as metaphor and symbol

Abstraction and meaning

CHAPTER 3: Material as metaphor and symbol

Each of these artists have created powerful metaphorical associations through their use of specific materials or forms. Incorporating everyday objects (known as ”found” material) has been common since the early twentieth century. In the works by Meireles, Bruguera, and El Anatsui, such materials–tea bags, discarded metal liquor-bottle caps, pennies, communal wafers and bones–are multiplied so that their individual identities are subsumed into an overall abstract form when viewed from a distance. Yet the chosen materials also contribute to the work’s meaning and content, symbolizing political, economic, religious and social structures and entities. In the work of Eielson and Kim, form and content merge into specific metaphoric references concerning respectively, ancient Incan culture and skin as a signifier of race.

Image credit:
Joan Mitchell
Rock Bottom, 1960-1961 (detail)
Oil on canvas
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991

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