Shotgun Reviews

Coille Hooven: Tell it by Heart at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Lux Yuting Bai reviews Coille Hooven’s Tell It By Heart at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York.

Installation view of Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart. Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Installation view of Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart.
Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Focusing on material-based art, the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, presents a range of contemporary works that cross the disciplines of fine art, crafts, and design. Current exhibitions throughout the museum emphasize transformation. Françoise Grossen Selects introduces the many influences that have formed the artist’s vision over the decades; Crochet Coral Reef: Toxic Seas demonstrates how our marine ecosystem has evolved under climate change. Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years showcases the artist’s exploration of clay as an artistic medium. Coille Hooven: Tell it by Heart addresses transformation and feminism, exhibiting fifty-five sculptures that range from vessels to figurative busts. The exhibition not only surveys thirty years of Hooven’s career, but also celebrates the maturity and growth of the female body through a medium connected to domestic life.

Curator Shannon R. Stratton organized the show by theme, and a wall text begins each section with a quote summarizing its focus. For example, the section dedicated to mythology opens with a quotation from Joseph Campbell: “Myth is the song of the imagination inspired by the energies of the body.” The text also analyzes of the works, mainly explicating its symbolism. Drawn from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the many symbols Hooven deploys, such as reptiles, vessels, flowers, and the moon, are recognizable in their associations with womanhood. The result is an amusing marriage of domesticity and surrealism: teapots with serpentine handles, clay pillows holding little giraffes, a decorative swan with windows carved in its body. Her later art is bolder in its feminist message, such as a series of naked headless female figurines in provocative poses. In a 2000 interview, Hooven explained that they illustrate self-acceptance and sexual objectification.

The silver coatings of the display barriers are rather conspicuous and prevent close scrutiny of the work, dampening the intimacy that Hooven intends. Pieces are displayed in unusual contexts. For example, anthropomorphic figurines stand on playful jumbo blocks that resemble shoe displays in department stores. Disfigured nudes are scattered on a large plate that looks like a swimming pool. Busts of Eve are placed on tall pedestals of the sort typically used to support classical sculptures. Tell it by Heart tells its tales of Coille Hooven’s work with elegance, and highlights Hooven’s long career transforming clay into objects that bridge the everyday and the fantastical.

Coille Hooven: Tell it by Heart is on view at Museum of Arts and Design, New York, through February 5, 2017.

Lux Yuting Bai is an independent curator and writer. She is also a Curatorial Fellow at the School of Visual Arts in New York.