Five artworks for people who should be doing chores instead of looking at art

Five artworks for people who should be doing chores instead of looking at art

Do you currently have a long list of things you need to do around the house? Modern art curator Chelsea Nichols helps you procrastinate a little longer with five artworks from Te Papa’s collection.

Chore #1: Cleaning the house

Handy Andy with red
Bill Culbert, Handy Andy with red, 2010. Te Papa (2010-0021-1/A-B)

Is your home full of stubborn grease and dirt? Well, Bill Culbert’s Handy Andy with red (2010) won’t really help with that, though it does take inspiration from plastic bottles of household cleaners.

Since the late 1960s, Culbert has experimented with light as a medium to explore the poetic possibilities of illumination, space, reflection, and opacity.

Here, he uses a fluorescent light to transform everyday materials into a glowing Pop Art-esque sculpture. Culbert asks you take a second look at the humble plastic bottle, and appreciate the beauty in the bold colour and strong shapes just sitting in your cleaning cupboard.

Chore #2: Grocery shopping

The peasant couple at market
Albrecht Dürer, The peasant couple at market., 1519, Germany. Gift of Bishop Monrad, 1869. Te Papa (1869-0001-125)

If you’re putting off your weekly shop, Albrecht Dürer’s The peasant couple at market (1519) might help motivate you to get to the grocery store.

This 16th century engraving by the master German printmaker shows a poor couple selling their goods at market, including a basket of eggs and some chickens. Hopefully, however, your grocery trip will be less fraught.

As Mark Stocker has explained, some Dürer scholars have argued that there is a saucier subtext at play in this scene, as the anxious younger man guards his ‘money bag’ while rebuffing the sexual advances of the lusty older woman.

Chore #3: Mowing the lawn

Lawn cuttings
Don Driver, Lawn cuttings, 1976, New Plymouth. Te Papa (1980-0007-1)

For those of you who need to mow the lawn, Don Driver’s Lawn cuttings (1976) is an assemblage filled with friendly reminders from your garden shed. The work consists of a large, dilapidated coir mat – the kind you might expect to see hung up in the back of your garage – suspended from a frame of old galvanized pipes.

Upon this, the artist hung a stained grass-catcher from a lawnmower, a pair of discarded shoes, an industrial stencil, a wooden roller, a heavy chain, and four well-worn doormats (which were supposedly stolen from his New Plymouth neighbours and replaced with new ones).

In his assemblages, Driver often combined prosaic materials like these to create complex new relationships between objects that elicit strong emotional responses in viewers.

Here, the familiar detritus of the garden shed is recombined to form something new, and vaguely sinister.

Chore #4: Scrubbing the bathroom

The orange bathroom
Ava Seymour, The orange bathroom, 1995, New Zealand. Te Papa (O.027205)

If you are putting off cleaning the bathroom, no worries – the figure in Ava Seymour’s The orange bathroom (1995) doesn’t really seem to have cleaning on their mind either.

Although the red rubber gloves, white apron and rubber cap would be useful for a good scrub, the black fetish suit implies a different kind of activity will be on the cards in this vibrant bathroom.

Seymour’s work plays with notions of normality and lifestyle, often using photo-collage to create unexpected juxtapositions designed to unsettle the viewer.

Here, domestic banality becomes strange by the addition of a person from a rubber fetish magazine and a plate of fish beside the basin. But does Seymour make the normal seem strange, or the strange seem normal?

Chore #5: Doing the laundry

Frank Hofmann, Clothesline, 1949. Gelatin silver print made by Marie Shannon. Gift of the Frank Hofmann Estate, 2010. Te Papa (O.033239)

Frank Hofman’s Clothesline (1949) is an awfully beautiful reminder to wash your dirty laundry. This modernist photograph plays with light, shadow, and composition, showing the silhouette of a woman through a thin sheet as she hangs washing on a clothesline.

Hofmann was a World War II refugee, who brought to New Zealand the influences of European modernist photography which often included striking and unusual angles like this.

I think this photograph also brings a touch of dreamy glamour to the banal task of hanging out laundry…which you can now channel as you return to the drudgery of your own chores.

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed the story of the door mats – so hard to procure four old tatty ones when you need them.

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