Brian Jungen - Strange Comfort

December 20, 2010

VIRTUAL TOUR: "Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the Earth under the night sky)"

Artist Brian Jungen (Dunne-za First Nations/Swiss-Canadian) transforms familiar consumer goods into unexpected objects that question globalization, pop culture, museums, and the commodification of Native culture.

Jungen first came to prominence with Prototypes for New Understandings (1998-2005), for which he fashioned Nike footwear into masks that suggested Northwest Coast iconography. Later works have included a pod of whales made from plastic chairs, totem poles made from golf bags, and a massive basketball court made from 224 sewing tables. 

Created on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor for the 2008 Sydney Biennale, Jungen's piece Crux depicts animals native to Australia which figure prominently in the constellations defined by Indigenous Australians: a crocodile, an emu, a shark, a possum, and a sea eagle. Crux is the formal name for the constellation commonly known as the Southern Cross. The mobile suggests themes of displacement and disorientation, lost luggage, and the question of who has the right to name the stars.


See Crux on display in the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Comments (16)

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I found the artwork with glass amazing. To take glass and make such a beautiful piece of art is really amazing. It sure seems unfair how the American Indians were treated. A true black mark in American History. Thanks for the great information, really enjoyed it.

I like Brian Jungen, he's great Artist.

I like the work of Brian Jungen. Thanks for the article and the video.

Brian Jungen's idea of Crux is really brilliant. He's a real artist!

Wow, you might say that the technology is very good! Photo, so beautiful, very clear, wish you good luck, create the future together!

Brian Jungen is a great artists, I love his work. Thanks for the video.

Brian Jungen is a true artist of immense creativity. I am still literally out of words for his glass creations. Thanks for posting this video !

Hi Molly,

Some people's minds are truly extraordinary. Jungen's work is beyond impressive.

In the Smithsonian Art Museum in D.C., there is a giant portrait of a woman... the whole thing done in black ink and thumb prints!

I also saw a gentleman who carved out all but a needle-thin skeleton of ostrich egg shells, leaving an almost oval snowflake effect.

I personally have an infrared camera that I've been using in a pretty unusual way to produce exotic art, but I'll save that for another discussion.

Outstanding post. I really appreciate you sharing it, Molly.

Take care.

You're an awesome blogger, I give you that. Keep up the good work.

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your site? My blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would really benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks!

The museum would be delighted if you reposted from this blog. Thanks in advance for giving the author the proper credit and for linking back to NMAI. All the best with your blog.

Great video and extraondiary artist!! loved the glass one

I’m glad to know there are still writers out there that can create good
thought-provoking content. I really like this article and the writer’s unique point of view.There’s a lot of good information here.

It is really fantastic article.This video is superb.

Brian Jungen's idea of Crux is really brilliant. He's a great artist!

Now this is unbelievably amazing.

February 03, 2010

Yogurt Cultures


Now showing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) up in New York is a retrospective of the work of the Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Orozco. Previously, there have been some comparisons made between Mr. Orozco and Mr. Jungen (here and here). Currently, in both shows, the retrospective and Strange Comfort, there are some iconographic similarities, approached in different ways: there are whale skeletons (Mr. Orozco uses a real skeleton and draws on it; Mr. Jungen creates his own); human skulls (Mr. Orozco uses a real skull and draws on it; Mr. Jungen makes his own); sports references (Mr. Orozco photographs soccer balls; Mr. Jungen channels baseball and basketball); and the manipulation of manufactured consumer materials (Mr. Orozco uses a shoe box, yogurt container tops, a car, and bicycles; Mr. Jungen uses shoes, garbage cans, luggage, among others).

And the overlapping conservation issues? There are many similarities, the most obvious being the common use of plastics, non-traditional, and modern art materials, which may result in conservation and preservation issues in the future. Both of these shows also focus on another issue: the use of ready-made consumer materials for the creation of art pieces. This practice may in the long term constitute some conservation conundrums, not just in the stability of materials, but also in finding replacement parts should anything happen to the original.

Let’s think about Mr. Orozco’s use of yogurt lids, for example. Back in 1994, Orozco nailed four Dannon yogurt lids to the four walls of the Marian Goodman Gallery, called it “Yogurt Caps” and that was his show. Of this, art critic Peter Schjeldahl from The New Yorker in a review of the current retrospective writes:

“I vividly remember being outraged in the proverbial manner of a philistine exposed to modern art when, for his first solo gallery show in New York, in 1994, Orozco displayed, on the walls of the main room at Marian Goodman, nothing but four Dannon yogurt lids. I recovered, by and by, to take the artist’s point, which amounted to disappointment as aesthetic therapy. The transparent, blue-rimmed, date-stamped, price-labelled(sic) little items were—and are, at MoMA—rather lovely, when contemplated without prejudice. Are they art? No. They are Dannon yogurt lids. The art part is a triggered awareness that the world teems with vernacular loveliness.” (The rest of the review can be read here.)

As reported in the New York Observer in this article, the inclusion of these yogurt lids in this current MoMA retrospective was essential for Ann Temkin, the chief curator at the MoMA’s department of painting and sculpture. (She talks about the lids here.) The original lids from the 1994 show, however, had been sold to a collector, but the gallery had four replacement lids, which “Mr. Orozco had purchased and put into storage just in case a need for them ever arose.” So the replacements now hang on the wall at MoMA, eliciting some questions in the New York Observer article about originality, value, etc.

However, back in 2005, for environmental, and undoubtedly financial reasons, Dannon stopped using plastic lids.These types of lids could now be called rare commodities. If something should happen to the extra set, how will they be replaced? Can the same concepts be portrayed with a different kind of lid? Would, as the New York Observer article suggests, replicas be made? Would the same price tags and expiry dates need to be on the replica lids? Or as Ms. Temkin’s curatorial assistant Paulina Pobocha said, “The importance of the work, I think, lies in the gesture more than it does in the actual artifact.”

The same sort of issues can arise with Mr. Jungen’s work and for NMAI, most specifically his mobile Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky). The museum was able to procure some pieces of the exact types of luggage used in Crux to be kept in NMAI collections storage, if the need should arise for them to be used as replacement material.

The good thing is that Mr. Jungen and Mr. Orozco, for that matter, can be asked about what they want in these particular circumstances. It has become a more standard practice, by museums, curators, and conservators, to interview contemporary artists when their art is being considered for acquisition or has already been acquired into a collection. Artists can be asked these exact types of questions, so that their intents and wishes of how they want their art displayed, maintained, conserved or not conserved, can be recorded and consulted, even after the time the artist is still around to give his or her opinion. These interviews can guide future display, conservation, use of replacements or replicas, and storage.

Here at NMAI, the conservation lab has a long history of consultations with Native and First Nations constituent community groups and individuals about the conservation and care of objects in the collection. These are conversations that can have significant and profound effects on conservation treatments. Interviewing contemporary artists, however, a process that may require slightly different approaches and directives, is becoming a bigger focus for the lab. There were conversations with Mr. Jungen about his ideas for the preservation of and his preferences for Crux. We are looking forward to continuing these conversations and following a more consistent and established program of interviewing Native contemporary artists.


The International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary (INCCA)  and their guides to good interviewing practice.

Yogurt image from here.

Comments (28)

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November 13, 2009

Lipstick Traces

  Master of the Fade. Kid of Kid 'n Play. (Image retrieved here.)

Christopher "Kid" Reid of Kid 'n Play, a hip-hop duo which had its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was perhaps best distinguished by his towering high-top fade, a hair-do defined by its short hair on the sides and long hair on the top, usually cut with great geometric precision. When Brian Jungen's Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky) was hung in the main rotunda of NMAI, in front of the large bank of windows, we were worried about another kind of fade, that of the discoloration of the plastics by exposure to UV (ultraviolet) and visible light. As a precaution, a film that blocked UV and some visible light was placed on the windows. While these measures were taken, we still wanted to understand what kind of fading to expect from these plastics under exposure to visible light.

This can be done! With a technology called the microfader tester (MFT). It’s science in action.

If you walk across the National Mall from NMAI, you may stumble upon the National Gallery of Art (which will be hosting a workshop for teachers about Mr. Jungen’s work in February 2010). Down in the Scientific Research Department, you’ll find conservation scientist Dr. Christopher Maines. He is in possession of a microfader tester. And he’s really good at using it, which is no easy feat.

Master of Fade.
Dr. Christopher Maines with the MFT and a sample of plastic from Crux luggage.

The MFT is used to detect light-sensitivity and lightfastness of the materials, which comprise your museum object. It does this without leaving visible evidence of the test on the object. The MFT has a light source, only tenths of a millimeter in diameter, filtered of UV and infrared light, which is directed at an area on the surface of the object. The reflected light from the surface of the object transfers through a spectrophotometer, which measures the color change and fading over a period of several minutes. This is compared with fading and lightfastness standards. Thus the MFT can determine a rate of fading over a short period, leaving virtually no trace on the actual object, and giving us a better sense of how light stable the object is, and if, for how long, and under what conditions it should be on display. Pretty neat.

The MFT can be used on all sorts of materials. Take, for example, lipstick. Namely artist Frida Kahlo’s lipstick. She liked her S.W.A.K.s and had a tendency to sign off her letters with lipsticked kisses. Germaine Greer did not call her “Patron Saint of Lipstick and Lavender Feminism” for nothing. In the collection of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, there is a letter from Frida to Emmy Lou Packard regarding Frida’s husband Diego Rivera’s health and other business. Frida signs the letter with multiple lipsticked kisses, along the bottom edge, one in each box for each of her objects of affection.

Most companies say their lipsticks are made to last. (“Stay supple, stay true… Of course they last.”) But could Frida’s lipstick stand being on museum display? Using the MFT, Dr. Maines working with Nora Lockshin, the paper conservator from Archives of American Art, determined that the lipstick was actually incredibly light sensitive and if overexposed by visible light, the lipstick’s vibrancy would quickly diminish. Display would have to be for very short duration, in a highly controlled setting, or not displayed at all. Luckily for us, digital images are readily accessible.

The letter. (Image retrieved here.)

(Frida Kahlo was prolific with her kisses. Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library has a lipstick-laden note as well. Here you can read more lipstick preservation, as related to that note and artist Rachel Lachowicz, known for her use of cosmetics in her work.)

But back to luggage, briefly. We took five samples of luggage plastic from Crux over to Dr. Maines, who generously ran the MFT on the samples.  It turns out, the plastics are rather resilient to fading, perhaps even more so than expected, but will fade if continually exposed to visible light for long periods. So good we put up the window film. We wouldn’t want to see the crocodile or its compatriots go pale.


Comments (11)

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Hey I like the lipstick effect it looks pretty cool.

You learn something new every day! I've never heard of the MFT... but the Kid from Kid 'n Play reference was a nice touch, hahaha. =)

Hi! I like your article , I would like very much to read some more information on MFT


really enjoyed the post and the information good job thanks.

I found your post while searching Google. it offers a lot of really great content so thank you for sharing. I will have to check it out more often.

Kid surely did get busted that time :) found this on google and its a great read

Hmmm interesting MFT. Nice! I'm going to dig more about it because I have a great sample in mind. :) Thanks!

Michelle Porter

Very nice blog. You've done a great job for this one.
Thank you for this information.

It article information is good information job.i like this your article.

Didn't know until now about the existance of such a sophisticated instrument as the MFT. The "rate of fading" is an interesting concept. Too bad the video is not available anymore.


Thanks for sharing this information, love this subject! :)

October 09, 2009

What to expect when you’re expecting (an exhibition).

Two weeks ago, Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky) was installed in the Potomac, the main rotunda at NMAI. It now hangs and rotates, as a result of a multitude of hours and of hands planning and weighing and balancing and adjusting. Five large plastic animals nearly perfectly balanced and counter-balanced from an inverted rowboat suspended from the ceiling. Engineering! 

The morning of the installation: the emu, the possum, the sea eagle, and the shark, loaded onto carts, took the freight elevator up from the basement collections area where they had been corralled for the past several months. Then the elevator broke. The crocodile took the more scenic route: up from the loading dock to the mean streets of DC, through the staff entrance (allowed access despite lack of appropriate identification), and to the Potomac.

Three scissor lifts were employed simultaneously to lift the pieces in appropriate sequence. When the lifts descended, Crux was left to turn at will.

Hanging crux
Jay and Pat of the exhibits shop staff, in hard hats. Crux in the process of being hung.

Curator delights
A curator delights.

It looks pretty amazing.

And elsewhere? Garbage cans.

Image retrieved from here. (Photo: Mathieu Génon, courtesy of the artist, Casey Kaplan, NY, and Frac des Pays de la Loire, France.)

The piece above, Carapace, was originally made by Mr. Jungen at Frac des Pays de la Loire, in France, out of French plastic garbage bins. Les poubelles. When the piece was dismantled, the bins were systematically stacked, and shipped over the Atlantic by sea freight.  Land ho, the port of Baltimore and thence to Smithsonian storage and finally NMAI. So many bins, so many bins.

Cleaning bins
Thorough inspection. Photo by Gail Joice.

And here is one of the small paradoxes of conservation and collections care: cleaning garbage cans. These, as garbage cans are wont to do, sat outside, in French dirt, prior to their use in this piece. Alas, with dirt can come pests, which can make the trans-Atlantic crossing, bunked under handles, hidden in the depths of the bins. Some of these pests, at times, can have an innate hunger for some museum objects as a food source; following their natural search and destroy policy, they can infest and damage museum collections.

Gail and bin
Gail Joice, Collections Manager, inspects a bin.

And so, with this in mind, upon their arrival at NMAI, the garbage cans were unpacked and inspected. (Customs apparently does not offer this type of conservation service.) We looked for pests. We found a few. Mostly spiders, who had known better days. And we cleaned off the conspicuous dust and dirt with water and rags. (It was likely the closest I’ll get to a holiday on French soil this year.)

And now, with the cleaner garbage bins, Mr. Jungen works on the reconstruction of the piece. Expect some changes. Jigsaws are currently being employed. There are plastic crumbs everywhere.

And elsewhere:

A skeleton.

A flag.

Many hands to raise them both. Luckily the artist is here to give his input.

Be ready. The 16th is right around the corner.



A very different installation. Leave the pins at home.

Comments (6)

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This is an very interesting article, I have to say "Thorough inspection" is my favorite. I will be sure to check back regularly.


The turtle shell of garbage cans is priceless! Really wish I could have been there to see all this, your photos are a beautiful consolation though. Thanks!

- Joseph

I find the carapace piece amazing. It took a lot of work and a lot of cleaning phases but the results speaks for itself.

I like Crux. I've always liked any work of art that fills empty spaces above our heads with such a brilliant, artistic and beautiful piece of artwork. Great input!

Michelle Porter

I've always found hanging installations like this fascinating. I've never had a installation of my own, but thanks to this article I feel like I'd know what to expect.


enjoyed the post and the information good job thanks.

September 12, 2009

First in anticipation and then in reality

"The coming... was so very near at hand that first in anticipation and then in reality it became henceforth [the] prime object of interest." J. Austen, Emma

(Five weeks out. It’s a hive of activity.)

It must be italian
Fragile. It must be Italian. Objects of interest: the first crates of Brian Jungen’s pieces, on loan from museums, galleries, and privates lenders, have arrived.

Scissor lift
Scissor lift
at rest. The hook from which Crux will be hung is being installed.

Demolition. Dry wall and spackle. The changing exhibitions gallery regenerating for Strange Comforts.


Michael Jordan was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame yesterday.

Video of the installation of an amazing piece, Waste Not, by Beijing-based artist Song Dong, at our museum neighbors to the north. (And more images from that exhibition.)

Comments (0)

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