Objects to Break Your Fall
Multi Media Installation: Buttons, Wallpaper, Postcards
Design MMoCA 2016, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin
Designed in response to a piece from the museum’s permanent collection: Ernest Tino Trova’s Untitled from the Falling Man Series. 1967. Screenprint.
The table, on loan from my parents who live in Minnesota, was purchased just before their marriage in 1969.
Ernest Trova’s piece was seductive from the start: flat, saturated color; self-assured delineation of data; the familiar formal basics of circle, square, triangle. Ambiguous black lines and sans serif type address a human figure; a confident arrow leads you on. A scientific graphic, this piece makes a statement.
But what? The lovely paradox is this: without a key, it’s an enigma. The message is as opaque as the ink. Using these elements and a designer’s love of ideation, I set out to break this unbreakable code. To break the pattern, if you will. But the interpretation—the assigning meaning—can only be our own.
I vaguely remember seeing the iconic “Falling Man” sculptures, but recall hearing nothing about Trova in school. A contemporary of Willem de Kooning and poet Ezra Pound, Trova was represented by New York’s influential Pace Gallery during the height of his career in the 1960s and 1970s. He was collected by the Whitney, Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art. But his work eventually fell out of favor: critics accused him of being repetitive, superficial, and—most damning—over-commecialized. At that point, anyone could purchase a branded “Falling Man” wristwatch, kaleidoscope, or inexpensive miniature reproduction sculpture. Purists balked, decrying that the art object should remain sacrosanct, out of reach. Trova, who had never moved from the Midwest, left the Pace Gallery for representation by an unexperienced and unscrupulous dealer in St. Louis. His career never fully recovered.
I am an artist as much as a designer, and am no stranger to implied insinuations by certain artists—especially in academia—that designing ephemeral objects is a lesser visual practice, a selling out. But art and design are for everybody, and each informs the other. Looking at the reproductions now in any museum gift shop, you can see Trova was ahead of his time. This is up for interpretation, and yours for the taking.
Photo just above: Amandalynn Jones Photography
Last photo above: Amandalynn Jones Photography