Something from Nothing: Contemporary Recycled Sculpture from America's Rustbelt

November 27, 2009 - March 7, 2010


Willis "Bing" Davis, Homage to the Middle Passage

Over the past few decades North America has seen an explosion of creativity in an art form using recycled materials as its medium. Its origins can be traced back to American folk art, but contemporary artists have progressed well beyond traditional folk art genre, inspired by such predecessors as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Ed Kienholz.

Something from Nothing features 13 artists living and working in the area of the United States known as the Rustbelt -- extending from Minnesota to New Jersey. The work is eclectic and sophisticated, as manifested in the manipulation and reassembly of such diverse materials as scrap metal, wire, pipe and discarded objects. Pieces range from whimsical creations to powerful social and cultural messages.  

Artist Listing


  Kyle Fokken, Uptet (Babylonian Gunship),

mixed media, 30x30x39"


Curator's Statement:

The impetus of Something from Nothing: Contemporary Recycled Sculpture from America’s Rustbelt was what I perceived as a lack of academic acceptance for a medium I love: sculpture using recycled materials.    

Inevitably when recycled sculpture is mentioned it’s in the same breath as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” shown at the NYC Armory show in 1917. What has since been termed “found object” art, Duchamp displayed an ordinary ceramic urinal. The public was aghast, but critically his theory that “this is art because he said so” gained acceptance and remains a justification for so much of contemporary art eighty plus years later. Pablo Picasso being an opportunist followed Duchamp’s lead a short time later with a series of found object sculptures using bicycle parts arranged as bulls’ heads. Clearly recycled sculpture has a long history and yet as a stand-alone medium of art, acceptance by academia is bereft.
There is always the implication that the materials being recycled has enough influence on the final outcome of a piece as to discount any true artistic value.

One of the first decisions made when developing the concept for this show was to include only freestanding sculpture. So many of the pieces I admire as a sculptor need to be experienced in a 360 degree environment; and I wish that the lack of two dimensional art will immerse the viewer in a unique environment. Another early decision was to select works that although are crafted from recycled materials, did not have recycling as their primary focus. I wanted sculpture that was first and foremost interesting pieces of art. This thought evolved over a period of months to include some examples that do in fact hold a love for our planet as their primary concern. As it turns out, Duchamp’s argument is very hard to discount even today.

There have been times when I felt I was just pestering this show into existence; in spite of my own ignorance as to the position of curator. I would like to take a moment to thank the staff of the Canton Museum of Art for their open minds on this project, its Director M.J. Albacete for allowing me the challenge and Curator Lynnda Arrasmith for taking me by the hand and teaching me something of the job.

The 13 artists selected for this show represent a very broad spectrum of the genre of recycled sculpture. As you walk through the show, I hope you experience whimsy and awe at their skill and imagination.

- Pat Buckohr

Paula Jenson welding eagle sculpture, courtesy of the artist