by Elizabeth Turner (Marketing & Communications Student Intern)
As I step foot into the Recent Acquisitions gallery in the Nasher Museum, I momentarily wonder if I am in the right room. Yes, I know the Nasher Museum has had some funky pieces in the Permanent Collection pavilion before, but as I stepped into the space this morning I was particularly struck by the enormous (what appeared to be) 8-foot tall gold chain necklace mounted on the wall. If there has ever been a piece of artwork at the Nasher Museum that interpellates its viewers in such a direct and striking way, then it is most definitely Necklace CNN by Thomas Hirschhorn.
This gigantic sculpture is that of a gold chain necklace that has the CNN (Cable News Network) logo as its pendant. At first glance, the sculpture looks like a necklace that you could find around the neck of a trendy hip-hop artist. This is, in fact, part of the intention of the artist. Thomas Hirschhorn, a 55-year-old artist from Bern, Switzerland, intended to evoke the style of hip-hop in this sculpture. Hirschhorn used cardboard, foil, plastic, gold wrapping paper, and tape to create Necklace CNN. According to an interview with Hirschhorn for bombsite.com, the artist said, “I decided on the materials I am working with because they are everyday materials. Everyone knows about them, everyone uses them—to do things other than art. These materials surround me, are easily available, unintimidating, and nonartsy. They are universal, economic, inclusive, and don’t bear any plus-value.” Indeed his intentional use of economically friendly materials sheds light into Hirschhorn’s past (he was a member of a group of artists, Grapus, that worked to promote social conscious). A piece of art that at first seemed to me like a simple enlarged gold chain now starts to take on a much greater meaning.
But what, exactly, was the message that Hirschhorn was trying to convey? Hirschhorn believes that enlarging things makes them empty. Hirschhorn also used the Cable News Network logo to represent a twenty-four hour news cycle; a cycle that, because of its very nature, perpetuates the creation of news where news does not exist. More specifically, this is a cycle that creates words that are hollow, just like this enlarged, hollow, cardboard sculpture that he built.
To me, the question that is more important then becomes: Why would Necklace CNN be included in Recent Acquisitions, an installation of paintings, works on paper and sculpture in collaboration with the 50th anniversary of the first black students enrolled at Duke? Maybe the artist chose an object that is so visually representative of the hip hop culture in order to encourage the viewer to question why this object could relate to a news station at all. It seems that Hirschhorn wants us to question the validity of the ratings-conscious news stations that many of us are so addicted to. Perhaps the visual imagery is meant to represent something that is sensational, gaudy, and striking, rather than something that is simply indicative of hip-hop culture. This extreme imagery is juxtaposed with the representation of a news station (in this case, CNN), which is something that most of us consider a very serious source of valid information. Many of us trust the information we learn when we watch the news, but maybe after seeing Necklace CNN, we will think twice before we accept what we see on television without a second thought.
From right to left: Thomas Hirschhorn, Necklace CNN, 2002. Cardboard, foil, plastic, gold wrapping paper, and tape. 98 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 4 in. (250.2 x 80 x 10.2 cm). Gift of the Rubell Family Collection in honor of Blake Byrne, T’57. 2012.9.1
Fahamu Pecou, Nunna My Heros: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman,’ 1969, 2011. Acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas. 63 x 49 1/2 in. (160 x 125.7 cm). Gift of Marjorie and Michael Levine, T’84, P’16, P’19, P’19. 2012.8.1
Barkley L. Hendricks, Bahsir (Robert Gowens), 1975. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 83 1/2 x 66 in. (212.1 x 167.6 cm). Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Jack Neely. 2007.5.1
Photo by J Caldwell