By Mattie Kropf
Born out of the Pop and Happening Art era of Warhol and Oldenburg, Frederick Meijer Gardens’ new feature artist has a flair for the unusual.
Frederick Meijer opened the new exhibit on January 28 and it will run until May 8, featuring American artist Jim Dine’s unique sculpture work.
Although he is more renowned for his oil painting and graphic prints, this exhibit only features Dine’s sculpture work.
The Vice President and Chief Curator at Frederick Meijer, Joseph Becherer, led a walk through of the gallery, explaining the significance of each piece, on Tuesday, February 1.
According to Becherer, this was the most labor extensive exhibit that Frederick Meijer has ever had; it has been four years in the making.
The pieces on display came from all over the country, from Walla Walla, Washington to New York City.
Dine spent about a week in Grand Rapids, getting ready for the exhibit and will be back on Thursday, April 14 for a rare question and answer session.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Dine moved to New York in 1959 to develop his art.
One of his first pieces, the oldest sculpture in the exhibit, is titled “Green Suit” and was actually a suit he wore. When he was first working in New York, he didn’t have enough money for canvas, so everyday things became his canvas.
A unique feature of Dine is his willingness to let his artwork be autobiographical.
Unlike Warhol and Oldenburg, Dine’s Pop and Happening artwork told a part of his personal story.
“He didn’t have wood, steel or the money for bronze, so he started scavenging for things to work with, taking stuff from the streets,” Becherer said.
Even after having the means to acquire bronze and more expensive material, Dine still used everyday objects.
One of his older pieces, from the 1980’s, was his first bronze piece. It uses the plate of a shovel he found as a solid backdrop to a discarded cast of the Venus de Milo. He found the cast on accident in an art supply store and it wasn’t until the head accidentally fell off, that Dine was inspired to use it. Since, it has become a theme to a number of his sculptures and paintings.
Because of his Midwest origins, Dine has a great interest in tools. Becherer explained that to Dine, they are a symbol of labor. In contrast, the Venus is a reference to an icon of beauty. He uses these two elements cohesively to form unique sculptures.
The most recent artwork in the exhibit is a series of three Venus de Milo wood sculptures. Each stands well over seven feet tall and is affixed with various types of tools.
When explaining the pieces, Becherer said that Dine is intrigued with wood because of an “element of change that goes on in the work. Wood changes over time, cracks form.”
Along with the Venus de Milo, Dine has three other strong themes in his gallery.
His most recent theme is Pinocchio, a reference to popular culture. As a young boy in the 1940’s, Dine was taken to see the cartoon Pinocchio. Although he originally related himself to Pinocchio, as he worked on the sculptures he began to see himself as Geppetto, Pinocchio’s creator.
Five different Pinocchios of various size, shape and texture fill up the back room of the gallery.
A third theme is the ape and cat. According to Becherer, the ape and cat remind Dine of him and his wife, Diana, and are often portrayed with a gentle closeness between them.
Also, an ongoing theme with Dine has been the symbol of the heart. Made from straw, bronze, and even glass. “He saw it as a universal symbol,” Becherer said.
Also for viewing is a colorful heart that stands around 14 feet. “We’ve never had something so bright and bold on terrace,” Becherer said.
This exhibit will only be available at one other venue before all the pieces will be sent back to personal collections and museums. Kennedy Museum of Art in Athens, Ohio is the next and last place to receive the exhibit.