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'America Starts Here'--at the List Visual Arts Center

"Camouflaged History," by Mel Ziegler, is part of a new exhibit, "America Starts Here -- Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler 1985-1995" at the List Visual Arts Center.
"Camouflaged History," by Mel Ziegler, is part of a new exhibit, "America Starts Here -- Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler 1985-1995" at the List Visual Arts Center.
Image courtesy / Mel Ziegler

The List Visual Arts Center this week opens "America Starts Here: Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler," a celebration of the decade-long collaboration between two artists who devoted the body of their work to looking at America through the objects and materials it produces. The show opens with a reception tomorrow, Feb. 9, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and an artist's talk with Ziegler on Friday, Feb. 10, at 6:30 p.m.

Ericson and Ziegler worked together from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, producing mostly installations and outdoor projects. Their work combines time periods and concepts in pieces such as "Camouflaged History," a house painted in the style of U.S. Army camouflage, using only paints in colors that a local preservation group deemed historic.

Working at a time when a lot of contemporary artists, like Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, were intentionally shocking the art world and its viewers, Ericson and Ziegler took a subtler approach. Bill Arning, of the List Visual Arts Center, who is co-curator of the show, describes their work as having a "gentle, generous poetic sensibility."

They used humble materials like paint or glass jars to approach lofty ideas. "They always created works that added resources to the community rather than depleting them," wrote Arning in a recent e-mail. Arning worked with Ericson and Ziegler early on in both his career and their collaboration, and he was impressed with their work -- impressed enough to bring it to MIT.

After Ericson's death from cancer in 1995 at the age of 39, there was less promotion of the artists' work. Arning hopes that "America Starts Here" will help reignite interest in these two important American artists.

The show is jointly curated by Arning and Ian Berry of the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, where the exhibit was recently shown. It will later travel to the Austin Museum of Art in Texas; Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute; and the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati.

In conjunction with the show, MIT Press has published a comprehensive 216-page catalog of Ericson and Ziegler's work, filled with images of the products and installations from their collaboration, as well as writings from many of the original curators of their shows.

The 20-piece show will be on view in the LVAC gallery through April 9.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 8, 2006 (download PDF).

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