A tchotchke is a small, inexpensive, decorative object that carries dubious visual integrity, has little functional use, and is usually mass-produced (frequently badly); its design bears little relationship to traditional high design or artistic aesthetics. Why, then, do tchotchke appear in the work of so many of today’s contemporary artists? Why does so much ‘tasteless’ material function so centrally in their work? Some artists use tchotchke as agents of camp, with ironic detachment, while others use them to critique commodity culture and still others either to undermine or accentuate the divide between high and low visual cultures or between sophisticated intellectual visual literacy and its inverse. But latent in most artistic engagement with tchotchke is an exploration of the ways in which objects, regardless of cost or value, are imbued with totemic or fetishistic meaning and significance through emotional association; and the ways in which the relationship between class and taste, race and gender, mass-consumption and individual collecting are visualized, and the channels though which value is acquired. This exhibition explores these and other strategies for constructing meaning by contemporary artists through the tactical re-presentation of tchotchke in art. Artists: Yoko Inoue, Patrick Jackson, Beth Katleman, Jeff Koons, Liliana Porter, Betye Saar, Jesse Small, Jeffrey Vallance and others.
Co-curated by Joy Sperling, immediate past president of the Popular Culture Association and professor of art history and visual culture at Denison University and Natalie Marsh, director of the Gund Gallery.
The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.
I am curious as to why there is no mention of the fact that the word tchotchke is a Yiddish word.
[…] versus an Art History minor by giving a brief review of the Gund Gallery’s current show, Tchotchke: Mass-Produced Sentimental Objects in Contemporary Art. Can you guess which review is whose? Let us know what you think in the […]
Sorry for the delayed response! We do appreciate your interest in our programming. While our introductory text did not include information about the word “tchotchke,” we did have a second text panel in the exhibition that included the origin of the word. An excerpt is as follows:
“A tchotchke is an object that functions in a multitude of ways depending on both viewpoint and context. Any definition is consequently both slippery and contingent. Yet, a tchotchke is variably described through analogous terms as a trinket, knickknack, doodad, doohickey, gewgaw, whatchamacallit, or simply as ‘stuff’. The specific term ‘tchotchke’ derives from Slavic, Polish, and Russian roots adapted to Yiddish by eastern European and New York Jewish-American communities. A tchotchke is a small, inexpensive, decorative object that carries dubious visual integrity, has little functional use, and is usually mass-produced (frequently badly); its design bears little relationship to traditional high design or artistic aesthetics. Tchotchkes can possess any number of attributes, sometimes simultaneously: they can be cute, pretty, sentimental or desirable; tasteless, ugly or
offensive; low quality, badly constructed, showy or unrestrained; and are almost always considered collectable despite being neither expensive or inherently valuable.