CULTURE & ARTS
10/06/2014 04:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The ‘Mom Booth' Turns Real-Life Mothers Into Performance Art

This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Northeast | Midwest

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Andy DuCett, 35

Growing up, Andy DuCett liked to rearrange his furniture so much, his parents placed a limit on how many times he could do it in a week. His obsession with disorientation lives on today in installations that use familiar objects, like chairs, in unusual ways.

DuCett, a Minnesota-based artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and DuCett was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Below, DuCett examines the roots of his Crystal Bridges contribution, the “Mom Booth” — a deceptively simple piece of performance art that turns the typical museum information booth on its head. Staffed by museum volunteers who are also mothers, the booth is a detergent-scented twilight zone where a presiding mom might ask visitors to help fold her fresh laundry (which she’s brought in), or cluck at a fallen Lego piece (which she covertly dropped). The idea is to invite contemplation of a truly Midwestern sentiment: Mothers guide us all.

DuCett with the moms of "Mom Booth," 2013/2014, interactive installation. Photo by Marc Henning.

When did you start to understand the scope of State of the Art?

The initial email was very mysterious. It was, ‘Hey, we’re these two guys and we would love to come visit your studio.’ It was like, ‘Wait a minute, is this one of those art scams?’

Finding out who they were slowly is a great metaphor for the museum. It’s the best-kept secret. From the initial conversation to learning about the museum, every step of the way got more exciting.

How was the visit itself?

Chad and Don worked off each other really well. If [the visit] was a Venn diagram, they overlapped really nicely. I can’t remember how long it lasted. You could tell me it lasted two hours, and I’d believe you. You could tell me 10 minutes, and I’d believe you. There was definitely something exciting about it. It wasn’t a local institution, wasn’t somebody that you knew. There was this mysterious set of circumstances that led people from a different state, from a museum you hadn’t heard of, that when you did your research you were impressed by, to show up at your door.

DuCett's volunteer moms discuss their experiences in the Mom Booth.

What’s the elevator pitch for your work?

If I look back at my practice, it’s evolved a lot. [Early] assemblages grew out of my training in painting. They were arranged in a very specific way. Capital-A Art. You don’t touch it, you just look from a distance and ponder it.

[I used] everyday objects, cultural ephemera, very quotidian stuff — chairs and end tables and lamps, video game consoles, just things that harken back to the stuff of life. People wanted to [interact with] them. They were activated in life, whereas sculpture is more inert. So in 2012, I got an opportunity where I had a solo exhibition at a place called the Soap Factory [titled “Why We Do This”]. Twelve thousand square feet of raw space, beautiful beams, just gorgeous. It was a little unnerving! Rather than just show the end table or the lamp mixed in with a bunch of things, I wanted to show them in context so someone could be immersed in that space.

Why use everyday materials?

People have a lot of ideas about what contemporary art means. I’m not trying to democratize the whole thing, but at the same time, I want someone to get interested in it enough to peel back the layers, to have this fun or poignant or thoughtful or meaningful experience, go back home and unpack it, digest it as they lie in bed, and then want to come back to that in the same way they would do with a non-artistic experience.

For instance, my favorite day at the grocery store is free samples day. The king of free samples day is the pizza oven. That smell just hits you when you walk in. I was walking through a grocery store, got a slice from a local pizza institution, walked away, and just turned around and said, “I have a strange request.” Six months later, they donated 50 or 60 pizzas to my show at the Soap Factory, and the owner and his girlfriend were there handing out a slice, so it added a smell component and a textural nuance. You understand what this means in the grocery store context, but what does it mean in this context?

“I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them... I can’t tell you how to be a mom.”

What inspired the Mom Booth?

One of the through lines in my work is the idea of collage. My parents put an embargo as a kid on how many times I could rearrange my bedroom. They were scared I’d wear out the carpet. I was dragging furniture around two, three times a week. I would relish those first couple of disorienting moments when you wake up and you’d be in a different place, and then you’d say, wait that’s my dresser, these are my things.

With the Mom Booth, I still feel like it’s a form of collage, a slippage between colloquial and high art ... The curator of contemporary art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts [invited me to make something]. The museum was putting on their first contemporary art show. It was called “More Real Art In The Age of Truthiness,” a play on Stephen Colbert’s concept. A lot of the work in the show was asking you to make distinctions between fact and fiction. This was for an established audience going to this museum for years and years. So, decades of people getting used to what they expected in a museum — of where the art lives and where the art doesn’t. I had shown a range of projects to Don and Chad, and the one they really liked was the Mom Booth, [placed] right next to the information booth, where you go to ask questions like, ‘Hey, where’s the restroom?’ In the museum, where are spaces that museumgoers wouldn’t expect to encounter art?

Are you worried about your work being ephemeral?

It would be ignoring somewhat what I’m trying to do if I don’t let it go away in some sense. If you think about a Sol Lewitt drawing, it’s instructions of how to create this piece long after he’s gone. There could be something worked out in helping to generate new work and how to expand something like the Mom Booth.

What sort of direction did you give the volunteers at the Mom Booth? Is the idea just, ‘Be mom-ish’?

I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them [...] ‘I can’t tell you how to be a mom.’ It was more like set design, where I provided a place for them to perform. I heard that one of them brought in her clean laundry that needed to be folded. And visitors would be walking around, and she’d be like, ‘I’m really busy. Could you help me?’ Or one would throw Legos on the ground, and when someone would walk by, she’d wag her fingers and say, ‘Why did you drop those?’ Some would sit and knit, just stare ahead, smile over their glasses. Maybe that look was more than saying things.

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