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Tools as Art: The Hechinger Collection

March 8 - May 25, 2003


DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is among the seven venues selected for this national traveling exhibition. Tools as Art celebrates the amazing variety of twentieth-century art that represents or incorporates tools and hardware. (left: Chester Arnold, Correction, 1987, oil on linen, 46 x 54 inches, Hechinger Collection)

The collection was formed by John Hechinger, Sr., Chairman of the Board of the Hechinger Company, a former chain of hardware and building materials stores in the Washington, D.C. area. As a way to enliven the company's new headquarters, which opened in 1978, Hechinger began installing artworks that fit the theme of his business. He thought that the display of this art in the workplace was a fitting celebration of the products his company sold, the importance of his employees' work, and the "intrinsic beauty of the simple objects that they handled by the tens of thousands." The Hechinger Collection at present exceeds 375 works in all media -- sculpture, painting, craft, photography, drawing, print, and digital art. The artists, who are mostly from the post-World War II era, comprise internationally recognized masters as well as national and regional artists, and total over 150 in number.

Tools as Art: The Hechinger Collection recognizes the ubiquity of tools in our lives with art that magically transforms utilitarian objects into fanciful works of beauty, surprise, and wit. Many works confound the barrier between art and life by recycling actual tools or exploiting the illusionistic properties of materials. Several reference labor and the change in production. Others mine the associative potential of tools and underscore the sheer beauty of a tool's design.

This traveling exhibition, on view in the Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery, represents a selection of works from the larger collection. Works by 65 artists include sculptures of tools in wood, glass, metal, paper, and stone; constructions of found objects and building materials; and paintings, prints, and photographs that depict tools of all sorts. Tools as Art includes work by many prominent artists, such as Arman, Richard Estes, Red Grooms, Fernand Léger, Donald Lipski, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Otterness, Wayne Thiebaud, and H. C. Westermann. Other well-known artists with ties to New England represented in the exhibition include Berenice Abbott, Jim Dine, Harold Edgerton, Walker Evans, and Pier Gustafson. (left: Lou Horner, Dreamtime, 1991, acrylic on wood, 13 x 57 inches, Hechinger Collection)

A small complementary exhibition on the Tools as Art theme -- culled from DeCordova Museum's Permanent Collection -- is on view in the Arcade Gallery. The Tools as Art: The Hechinger Collection tour has been organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C., with the collaboration of Sarah Tanguy, Curator of the Hechinger Collection. DeCordova site coordinator for Tools as Art is Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo. IA&A's national exhibition programs are generously supported through the Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation. DeCordova's portion of the traveling tour is funded in part by a generous grant from the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation and Citizens Bank. Tools as Art is accompanied by a full-color illustrated catalogue and education brochure.

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