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Inscrutable Objects

June 01 – December 11, 2024
Richard Kalina, Midnight Rider (detail), 1972. Acrylic on canvas with polyester, 40 x 30 x 10 inches (101.6 x 76.2 x 25.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Museum purchase, 2014.22.1. © Richard Kalina. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.
Colin Quashie, SlaveShip Brand Sardines, 2012
Colin Quashie, SlaveShip Brand Sardines, 2012. Sardine can, 3 × 4 1/2 × 7/8 inches (7.6 × 11.4 × 2.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mark Sloan and Michelle Van Parys in honor of Trevor Schoonmaker, 2016.13.2. © Colin Quashie. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

in-ˈskrü-tə-bəl (adjective): not readily investigated, interpreted or understood.

This installation brings together sculptures, drawings and photographs that might be hard for most of us to comprehend. They challenge convention and encourage close viewing. Reminiscent of an ancient and official text, Ion Bitzan’s Old Document of Ownership is comprised of a vaguely recognizable but invented and indecipherable language. Photographs by Brittany Nelson and Letha Wilson employ experimental techniques to challenge our assumptions of photography. Wilson uses materials such as concrete, which oozes out of the photograph in Tent Rocks, to create unconventional landscapes. Nelson’s photographs use digital and analog processes without a camera to make holographic, geometric shapes.

In Necklace CNN, Hirschhorn creates a monumental necklace in the style of hip-hop “bling” using cheap and common materials. By constructing art out of what many people would consider trash, Hirschhorn not only provides commentary on what art is and where its value lies, but he also addresses issues of quality in popular culture. Enlarging the necklace to mammoth proportions draws attention to its gaudiness. As Hirschhorn states, “Enlarging makes the thing empty.” The “CNN” on the necklace refers to the Cable News Network, with its twenty-four-hour news cycle that by necessity creates news when none exists, or repeatedly discusses the same topics until they are hollow words without meaning. Hirschhorn draws an analogy between ratings-conscious reporting and the posturing and social status implied by a piece of jewelry. He highlights the precarious nature of culture when influenced by a desire for the sensational.

The works in this exhibition may appear inexplicable, impenetrable or even paradoxical in nature. When we spend time with each work of art, our eyes start to make sense of them. But we still feel compelled to reflect on our own perception and understanding of the art before us.

Marshall N. Price, Chief Curator and Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Artists often imbue their works with paradox. Christian Marclay’s Breathless III, a recorder, and Secret, a record, are found objects modified by the artist so that they no longer function.  No one can play music on these objects because of Marclay’s simple but irreversible modifications. Colin Quashie and Sanford Biggers also use found objects, combining them with absurdist humor to raise serious questions of identity and history. These inscrutable objects are filled with subtle social commentary to question how we perceive the world around us.

Christian Marclay, Breathless III, 2000. Altered wooden recorder flute, 1 3/16 × 11 3/8 × 1 3/16 inches (3.02 × 28.89 × 3.02 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Museum purchase, 2009.8.1. © Christian Marclay. Image courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
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