When Chicago-based designer, maker and educator Norman Teague and artists Michael Thompson and Zachary Weber come together in an object-focused mixed-media exhibition, you know it’s something not to be missed. Design objects, furniture, paintings, wall sculpture and 3-D works of all shapes and sizes evoke moments of introspection, humor, insight and inspiration—proof that design surrounds us, deeply influencing our lives in ways large and small. In light of newly opened “Object Oriented” at The Art Center Highland Park, co-curators Caren Helene Rudman and James M. Lynch, who also serves as executive director, talk to Newcity’s design editor about bringing the three creatives together aesthetically and conceptually, Highland Park as an extraordinary cultural destination that inspires and ignites passion for the arts through self-expression, dialogue and community engagement, and the importance of breaking down barriers.
Tell us about “Object Oriented,” What is the guiding idea behind it?
James Lynch: I’ve always wanted to have more three-dimensional art in the gallery—work you can walk around and view at all angles, to break up the space and use every inch of the gallery. When we met Norman we knew we had to find a way to feature him here—literally before he’s too big to consider a small North Shore gallery. His work and his transformational approach to design are something that we knew would intrigue our audience.
Caren Helene Rudman: When our president of the board, Yumi Ross, initiated a lunch with Norman, we immediately knew that we wanted to collaborate with him. Moreover, executive director James Lynch had been working for years at establishing The Art Center as a hub for a “reverse cultural commute,” and with Norman, that goal came to fruition. This was really James’ vision and he worked tirelessly at making this a reality for us.
“Object Oriented” blurs the lines between art and design featuring three outstanding creatives: Norman Teague, Michael Thompson and Zachary Weber. In what ways do they complement each other aesthetically and conceptually?
JL: Norman’s approach is thematic, he’s using design as an agent for change and as a mechanism to empower Black and brown communities. He’s breaking barriers in many ways. Pairing Michael in our Cindi Elkins Gallery is a great balance. Michael’s approach is more whimsical, not purely functional, and he can see the art and possibility in anything. He is pure creative energy and that is how he breaks barriers. Zach is looking to break some rules and walks the line between order and chaos in his medium. We were hearing his name everywhere and he’s had pieces in a couple of our exhibits. The irreverence of his ceramics matches the reinventing furniture approach of Norman and the break-all-the-rules approach of Michael. He’s a fresh voice we’ll hear a lot more from.
CHR: All three artists work in three dimensions, yet in very different ways. Norman Teague’s work has a strong element of design that focuses on form and utility, while Michael Thompson’s works are more whimsical, even floating (seen in his kites), with an ironic sense of humor. As part of our rising star series, Zachary Weber’s work reflects an open and experimental non-traditional object. Coincidentally, all three attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago which speaks volumes about the continuing influence and reputation for the different generations.
Can you talk about the importance of bringing an engaging exhibition into Highland Park? In what ways do art and design serve as an agent for change and as a mechanism to empower the community?
JL: Highland Park has an educated, sophisticated population. By bringing high-quality exhibits to the Art Center, we’re offering an alternative to a trip to Chicago galleries with all that entails—traffic, parking, crowds. That is great news for people in our own extended area but something we’ve seen more and more is that people are routinely coming here from Chicago and Milwaukee because the trip is worth it.
CHR: Norman Teague has been working on bridging art and design to reflect his identity and community. By highlighting him and his work, we focus on a different voice. It was imperative to Norman that we include events to build conversations and to break down barriers of different cultures. Art and artists can be that bridge to engage audiences from all around the Chicago area and beyond. That has always been the Art Center’s focus, but with Norman’s notoriety and presence, we know that this will be vitally important.
What are you hoping the viewers will take away from this exhibition?
JL: Our goal is to present challenging, inspiring exhibits that provoke conversation and thought. Each of these artists approach their work with a unique lens and, all else aside, we hope that people will be inspired by the aesthetic mastery of all of the pieces by all three artists, but also to be inspired in their own lives, their own work, to see with new eyes.
CHR: As with all of our exhibits, we hope to engage audiences to see the connection between art and community, how art can reveal the vulnerabilities and strengths of how we relate to the world around us and to each other.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
JL: We are a community that has recently suffered a great tragedy—one that has the potential to drive us apart. Our events, classes and exhibits are opportunities for all of us to come together and to reinforce our commitment to each other—the arts provide a safe space to do that. What happens under our roof is real, actual transformation, a kind of magical healing, and I can’t imagine a better place to be or a better way to make a difference in the life of this great community.
CHR: Norman was recently invited to represent the United States as a U.S. Pavilion participant for the Venice Biennale. We are honored to host this exhibition concurrent to the exciting news.
“Object Oriented” is on view at The Art Center Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Road, Highland Park through December 30.
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