Lambertville, NJ - From the 1970s through the 1990s, Elisabeth Cunnick, Director and Curator of A/D, invited some of the best painters and sculptors of the day to confront the distinctions between fine art and function by designing utilitarian objects. The prototypes that each created were translated as editions and offered for sale at A/D. Peter Joseph invited Cunnick to pursue her brash concept at his gallery and, in 1992, mounted the show “A/D at the Peter Joseph Gallery”. The Cooper Hewitt (Smithsonian Design Museum) thereafter included some of the A/D Gallery objects in its groundbreaking exhibition "Design ≠ Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread".
On May 4, Rago is honored to offer a selection of editions and prototypes from A/D, as well as other items from the A/D Gallery archives, in its Fine Art Auction. Some of these were part of the original exhibitions at Peter Joseph and the Cooper Hewitt. Among the artists included: Joe Andoe, Chuck Close, David Deutsch, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Nelson, Tom Sachs, Kiki Smith, James Turrell, Richard Tuttle, Andy Warhol, and William Wegman. Many of these objects appear only rarely on the market, and with this dispersal of the retained archives of A/D, it is unlikely that such a range of important A/D editions will ever be offered again.
The array is divergent: wallpaper by Joan Nelson, William Wegman and Roy Lichtenstein, tapestries by Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol and Chuck Close, furniture by Richard Tuttle and Sol LeWitt.…. As articulated by Elisabeth Cunnick in the exhibition catalog, “Inevitably, the artist’s eye and hand are involved, and the object reflects concerns expressed through their painting or sculpture, but an important definition (is) the implied intimacy of use.”
Decades later, the question still remains; can a functional object be transformed into art? Marcel Duchamp transformed a urinal and a bottle rack into conceptual artworks by decree: it became art because Duchamp the artist said it was. Inversely, one could credibly argue that when purpose is the goal, aesthetic value must be subordinate to utilitarian function.
Meredith Hilferty, who directs the Fine Art department at Rago, takes the position espoused by Cunnick and Peter Joseph (who wrote the foreword to the A/D exhibition catalog). “I see a continuum between art and design, between the museum and the home,” Meredith says. “As Cunnick says so aptly, art can be apprehended in the ‘coolly distant environment’ of a museum. But it can also possess the intimacy of use - as the table where you eat and the chaise on which you sleep.”
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