artbeat (2006-39)

Daniel Hale and others toe the line between fine art and consumer art

Soup Cans Are So 1962

by Lisa Slade

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Well, the good news is that Pop art is still alive and kicking. The bad news? The bad news is that Pop art is still alive and kicking, even in our own backyard. But this is not Grandfather Andy’s version of Pop art, nor is it Uncle Liechtenstein’s. It is much more subtle, much more chic and, of course, as expensive as it’s always been.

If you’ve driven by Bennett Galleries on Kingston Pike recently, you might have noticed that they have “Form and Function: Exhibition of Fine Craft,” displayed on their sign. Well folks, the nice people of Bennett Galleries are not lying to you. They do indeed have an exhibit displaying fine craft, and lo and behold, it also has a good deal to do with form and function. Daniel Hale is just one of the artists being displayed at Bennett Galleries right now, and you should go see what’s happening over there in Bearden.

The line between high art and low art has been blurred so many times that the lines themselves now make about as much sense as the traffic lanes of I-40 through West Hills. That’s why it’s not surprising to see artists playing with the concept of combining two things previously not combined in art.

In the case of California artist Hale, his highly functional furniture is not just useful in the traditional sense, it’s multipurpose and multifaceted. With works labeled as “Ottoman,” “Round Table,” “Bench,” “Game Table,” “Box,” “Grandfather Clock,” and “Corner Cabinet” (and no, those are not pseudonyms for abstruse paintings or sculptures, they really are those things), there is no question that Hale is glancing to real life and current culture for inspiration, but as Hale looks to the culture, he also inevitably makes a statement about it.

As Hale himself says, “My work includes the design and manufacture of furniture, sculpture, and functional objects as well as architectural design. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, including ancient art and architecture and modern works. It is a synthesis of old and new. It incorporates common materials in new ways.” Hale’s art, instead of combining classical influences with advertisements, one of Pop art’s favorite combinations, looks simultaneously to Home and Garden magazine, with earthy tones signifying unity with the Earth in a new-age, touchy-feely kind of way, and paying homage to Andrew Lloyd Wright, with the slightly abstract simplicity of clean lines and elegant forms.

In the center, next to a table and a cabinet, stands an object that looks non-domestic, as though it would be slightly out of place at any conservative dinner party. The piece is titled, “Winged Victory.” It has cubist elements, Egyptian elements, and the aforementioned Home and Garden tendencies. It is this kind of pastiche, and contrast with the rest of Hale’s pieces, that only serves to add to the almost eerie feeling in the gallery, though. The exhibit shares a doorway with the rest of the store, and the rest of the store is most decidedly consumer art, art designed for selling purpose alone.

Does that mean Hale’s art is also consumer art? Does it mean that the principles of Renaissance art have been lost entirely? Whatever happened to art as an elevating of the consciousness, or as a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions? Or, is what Hale trying to tell us is that the old feelings still exist, just in a new form?

Other artists have examined this same question, in particular Damien Hirst, who gained fame and fortune (OK, not quite fame and fortune, but at least critical acclaim) for his esoteric installments. Hirst took a much closer look at what we buy, and what it means that we buy it. If the objects in the room showcasing Hale’s works were placed in the same manner in, say, the Museum of Modern Art, they would no longer appear to be individual pieces of art for sale in a showroom. Instead, they would become a fabulously enlightening installment about the lives we lead, because what we are worshiping as we begin to move further into the 21st century is not just the soup can and the movie star.

No, it’s become much more complex than that. What we want now is the much coveted yuppie life. The life where the pieces in your house are not merely functional, but are also elegant and contain narrative strains. The life where the furniture is designed to interact with you, as well as serve you. It is designed to both ignite your intellect and tell you the time. Pop art, you see, has never left us, much as we might want it to. It has instead transformed itself into something less recognizable, and much less blatantly critical of our society, but if you look hard enough it’s still there. Just waiting for you to buy it.

What: Form and Function: Exhibition of Fine Craft (featuring the work of Daniel Hale, Robin Surber and Nancy Kubale-Wicker)