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The Work of Art

If you’re a wage slave toiling as a receptionist, a barista, or even an office drone in a hive collective, you’ve probably never been immortalized in a contemporary artwork. But back when industry ruled, workers were a popular subject of artists, who often captured people at their daily jobs to convey a notion of progress and how their workplace efforts were contributing to uplifting the quality of life for all of us. Although the image of the worker fell out of favor in the late 20th Century, the Wolfsonian-FIU (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach) hasn’t forgotten. Its collection, containing artworks from 1885 to 1945, boasts innumerable depictions of the laborers and farmers who created the products that made life simpler and who were once icons of class consciousness and national character. At the Wolf, artist Esther Shalev-Gerz researched the museum’s holdings and its depictions of work and working figures from the 19th through the mid-20th Century for her project “Describing Labor.” Commissioned by the Wolf, Shalev-Gerz’s insightful exhibit employs video, audio, and photography to underscore the often unseen figure of the worker whose labor fabricates the physical world in our society. To do so, the Lithuanian-born, Paris-based talent filmed 24 people whose mastery of art lingo was used as a tool to describe historical works from the collection. Through these present-day voices and bygone images, Shalev-Gerz’s project challenges viewers to reconsider the inception of creation and of how our own work links us to an unbroken chain of production.
Dec. 25-April 7, 2012


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