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Plastic Basket (BOMB) from the “Neveruses” series, 2011

Josh Blackwell

Look closely at this “queer” work of art from the Museum’s permanent collection that elevates a discarded everyday object through amateur craft embellishments. Learn how the artist challenges what makes art valuable in this object lesson for students in grades 6 and up.

The queer body has long been associated with excessive decoration and artificiality. In his practice, Josh Blackwell addresses the false dichotomy between surface and depth that fuels this homophobic construction.

look

  • What is the first thing that comes to mind when looking at this object?
  • Please describe the work in as much detail as possible. Pay attention to color, line, shape, texture, and pattern.  
  • What can you tell about the materials the artist used?
  • What processes did they use to create this work?

explore

Plastic Basket (Bomb) is from Blackwell’s “Neveruses” series. The artist salvages plastic bags from city streets and kitchen drawers, then uses colorful yarns and threads to embellish them. Blackwell, who teaches painting at Bennington College, thinks of these works primarily as paintings, even though they could just as easily be identified as sculpture or textile art.

  • In what way does looking at the object through the lens of painting change the way you see it?
  • What conventions that are typically associated with painting are present in this work?
  • Do you think putting artworks into certain categories, such as “painting,” “collage” or “craft” matters? Why or why not?

Blackwell is interested in examining the ways in which art has traditionally been regarded as more or less valuable, refined, or profound depending on whether it was associated with the male-dominated spheres of painting and sculpture or the more marginalized realm of craft that was often considered “women’s work.” The artist has called their “Neveruses” series “queer” or “androgynous” in resistance to these gendered categories. 

  • Why do you think the artist entitled the series “Neveruses”?
  • For this work, why do you think the artist added the word “bomb” in parentheses?
  • How does using plastic bags as an armature or foundation signal that the artwork is “queer”?

discuss

Josh Blackwell was featured in the Museum’s 2018 exhibition Surface/Depth: The Decorative after Miriam Schapiro, which examined how the feminist pioneer paved the way for contemporary artists to embrace craft and decoration, long considered inimical to “serious art.”

In the exhibition catalog, Chief Curator Elissa Auther notes that Blackwell is inspired by the feminist elevation of women’s needlecraft.  She cites Andy Warhol’s famous statement that he was proud to be “deeply superficial” and observes that, in using embroidery, Blackwell bridges “feminist and queer art worlds, addressing the construction of homosexuality as a condition of all surface and no depth.”

  • What do you think Warhol meant when he called himself “deeply superficial”?
  • How does Plastic Basket (Bomb) address stereotypical attitudes towards the “queer body”?
  • Can you think of other types of (pop)-cultural expression that make a similar statement?

make

Create an artwork out of used plastic bags:

  • Knot several bags into a sculpture, rug, or garment.
  • Find inspiration in Blackwell’s work and create an embroidered “painting” by stitching over a single bag, arranging colors into an interesting composition.
  • Using tape and plastic bags, make a functional object, such as an envelope, wallet, or hat.

Josh Blackwell, Plastic Basket (BOMB) from the “Neveruses” series, 2011
Plastic, yarn
16 × 16 in. (40.6 × 40.6 cm)
Museum of Arts and Design, New York; gift of Betsy Sussler, 2019
Photograph courtesy of the artist

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