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American, 1943 -
Nofreelunch Basket, 2000
Willow and waxed string
23 x 17 x 17 in. (58.4 x 43.2 x 43.2 cm), overall
Maurice R. and Maxine B. Forman Fund, 2000.13
Not currently on view
Director Emeritus Grant Holcomb speaks about Nofreelunch Basket
For me, John McQueen is one of the contemporary masters in art. Though he is internationally acclaimed for his work in basketry, he is equally praised as a conceptual, installation and even environmental artist. Certainly his work has helped break down the tired hierarchy between the so-called "fine arts" and the crafts.
McQueen's art is intimately connected with the environment. First, he gathers materials from the woods found outside his home, in Upstate New York. And then, with great precision and skill, he weaves them into sculptural forms that, as one critic noted, become "fluid contortions of green and brown willow branches" that often look like "drawings in the air." As such, the visible becomes invisible; closed space becomes open space; the sculptural becomes calligraphic. From whatever angle, we can look inside and through the work. We notice the variety of textures and the subtle color contrasts between young and mature willows. We may even remember that the ancient Greeks believed that the Fates, daughters of Zeus, would weave garments for each individual soul---each garment determining a soul's destiny. Here McQueen weaves the willows of his destiny.
In works such as Nofreelunch, McQueen introduces words into the compositions. As we move around the piece, we read such paradoxical phrases as "PIECE OF CAKE" (perhaps reflecting, ironically, the artist's sense of ease in the creation of the work). At mid-level, we read "MISSING THE BOAT" (and may now question whether the artist has gone astray). Finally, we read "A PRIZE AT A PRICE" (equally ambiguous but perhaps reflecting tension between personal creation (a prize) and commercial acquisition (a price). But perhaps my interpretations are just missing the boat!
I find McQueen's work to be deeply layered and meaningful: ideas conjoined with technique; language with the land; private as well as public meaning; poetic and paradoxical.