You may have encountered the typical staples of “recycled” art — the lobster made from a beer can or elbow macaroni glued to an old piece of construction paper. But art made from recycled or used materials is evolving into more than a juvenile arts-and-crafts fancy or the blasé art-stand filler for community events. Recycled art is earning a spot on the top shelf of the serious art world. Meanwhile, waste and recycling companies are not being shy about supporting recycled art exhibits, such as those curated by Susan Subtle Dintenfass, a resident of Berkeley, Calif.
Dintenfass first encountered artists working with used and recycled materials in the early 1980s in her career as a magazine and newspaper writer. At the time, she says, recycled designs were crude, resembling folk art or self-taught styles. But Dintenfass' interest in using recycled materials to create art and consumer products led her to curate the seminal exhibit “Hello, Again! A New Wave of Recycled Art and Design.” The exhibit, which opened in Oakland, Calif., in 1997 and then traveled across the country for two and a half years, helped earn the genre some critical street cred. It also garnered national media attention, such as articles in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
“Hello, Again!” featured nearly 1,000 pieces of art, toys, fashion, garden and office accessories to illustrate the aesthetic potential of recycling in the United States. “Recycling is not a new concept, and in the exhibition in Oakland, I traced the evolution of recycling from folk art up into new materials like plastic lumber that designers are using to make sophisticated consumer products,” Dintenfass says.
The show also encouraged people to recycle — a message several waste and recycling organizations were able to support. “Hello, Again!” was funded by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, San Leandro, Calif., and the California Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling, Sacramento. Norcal Waste Systems Inc., San Francisco, sponsored “Return Engagement,” Dintenfass' exhibit that ran from September 2002 to January 2003. This exhibit featured art made of materials once connected to food and cooking.
Dintenfass is putting together a newer version of her “Hello, Again!” exhibit that will appear in summer 2005 at the United Nations in New York. She plans to have several pieces representing each continent. A core of the exhibition will travel throughout Europe. Wherever it travels, Dintenfass says there will be a component that recognizes local and regional recycling efforts. To learn more about Dintenfass' exhibits, visit www.helloagain.com.