|Tools As Art: The Hechinger Collection
Essay by Pete Hamill
The Hechinger Collection celebrates the ubiquity of tools in our lives with works that incorporate tools and hardware in their imagery. Challenging our expectations, the Collection explores the transformation of utilitarian, everyday objects while appealing to the builder in all of us. In 1978, hardware industry pioneer, John Hechinger, Sr. found his new corporate headquarters efficient but sterile: "the building seemed to rebuke the fantasies that a hardware store inspires. For anyone whose passion is work with his or her hands, a good hardware store is a spur to the imagination." Already the owner of Jim Dine's Tool Box, Hechinger began collecting art
|that highlighted the company's very livelihood: "It was the hope that surrounding employees with artistic expressions of the same objects they handled in the tens of thousands would bring a sense of dignity to their jobs."
As Hechinger discovered early on, the collection's narrow focus strikes a rich and diverse vein in modern art. At present, the collection includes over 370 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and folk art, primarily from the post World War II era. Spanning a wide range of styles and themes, the Collection honors the dignity of common tools, where form and function are inextricably linked. From world-recognized to emerging, the more than 255 artists are mostly American, but with notable exceptions, such as Arman, Fernand Léger, Anthony Caro, Oleg Kudryashov, Ben Nicholson, Jean Tinguely, among others.
Another hallmark of the Collection is that it often blurs the distinction between high and low art by identifying art with labor and tools. Jacob Lawrence, three of whose works from the "Builders" series are in the collection, affirms: "I like tools. I like to look at them. I think they are very beautiful. And they have a history. In many of the religious panels of the Renaissance, you see the same tools as carpenters use today. They haven't changed much since then, so they've become a symbol of order and aspiration to me."
Put another way, the Collection highlights the act of creation as work and stresses the simple fact that artists use tools, at times of their own fashioning, to make art: While artists know this, many prefer to make the finished product seem effortless. Much of the magic in the Hechinger Collection, however, stems precisely from the way artists acknowledge the importance of tools and hardware in the artistic process. It is to John Hechinger's credit that as a collector, he not only recognized this early on, but he also made it the overarching theme of the Collection.
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