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USU Exhibition Examines Complex Relationship between Art, Kitsch, Culture

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016

Artwork from USU museum Kitsch exhibit, 'Vendora' by Frank McEntire

Frank McEntire, Vendora, 2003, Plastic dispenser on metal stand with found objects, 53 x 23 x 18 inches, Collection of Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Charter Member Endowment Purchase, 2005.2. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A Matter of Taste,” an exhibition exploring the complex relationship between art, kitsch and popular culture opens at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) at Utah State University Jan. 23 and continues through May 7. A reception at the museum celebrating the exhibit’s opening is Saturday, Jan. 23, from 7-9 p.m., with a gallery walk through with artist Frank McEntire and exhibition curators at 8 p.m.

The exhibition showcases a wide range of kitsch, kitsch-like or kitsch-inspired objects dating from the 20th and 21st centuries drawn from public and private collections, including figurines, shot glasses, snow-globes, posters, toy cars and mass-produced lithographs, as well as fine art objects that play upon the accessibility and dominance of kitsch across cultures.

“While a gift shop may seem the more likely place to find kitsch in a museum this exhibition challenges that perception by exploring questions about how kitsch objects are a reflection of our culture; the connections that can be made between art and kitsch; and how kitsch is perceived differently depending on one’s age and cultural background,” said Katie Lee Koven, NEHMA director and chief curator.

Derived from ‘verkitschen’ (German for “to make cheap”), kitsch was first used in the 1860s and 1870s to describe art sold in street markets in Germany.

“While many continue to characterize kitsch as lowbrow, scholars have identified various interpretations of kitsch in the modern and postmodern eras,” said Rebecca Dunham, curator of collections and exhibition for NEHMA. “Kitsch may be an intentional style of the maker, evoking sentimentality or posing an ironic gesture. It may also be defined by technology as kitsch objects are often mass-produced, stimulating the broad diffusion of imagery in the marketplace.”

A Matter of Taste” includes more than 50 artworks. Highlights include sculptures by Frank McEntire, an installation by Jean Lowe, screenprints by Richard Pettibone and paintings by Jeffrey Vallance from NEHMA’s permanent collection. The exhibition also includes original paintings by Thomas Kinkade on loan from the Kinkade Family Foundation in California, the installation of “Turbo” curated by Aaron Moulton of the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and a unique selection of Mormon kitsch objects from the Latter-day Saints Church History Library in Salt Lake City. In addition, a section of the exhibition is devoted to various types of reproductions of famous paintings such as Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” (1770); Thomas Lawrence’s “Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie” (1794); Vladimir Grigoryevich Tretchikof’s “The Chinese Girl” (1952); and Jack Vettriano’s “The Singing Butler” (1991).

The presentation of “A Matter of Taste” includes a symposium of the same title, convening international scholars, curators and performers to discuss the nature of kitsch and the arts. The symposium will take place at USU April 7-8.

Other public programs include an interactive area where visitors can play with board games and puzzles and watch film clips about the objects on display. Visitors will also be invited to participate in a kitsch exchange in the museum’s lobby.

The exhibition was co-organized by Koven and Dunham, as well as by David Wall, assistant professor in the USU’s Department of Art and Design. 

The Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting modern and contemporary visual art to promote dialogue about ideas fundamental to contemporary society. NEHMA provides meaningful engagement with art from the 20th and 21st centuries to support the educational mission of Utah State University, in Logan, Utah. NEHMA offers complementary public programs such as lectures, panels, tours, concerts and symposia to serve the university and regional community. Admission is free and open to the public. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more, visit the NEHMA website.

Contact: Katie Lee Koven, NEHMA executive director and chief curator, 435-797-0164,

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