Photos courtesy of Whitney Oldenburg

BY TAMMY SCILEPPI

A great way to find happiness in the new year is to meditate, and practice mindfulness by being in the moment. Another is by finding contentment in everyday life and beauty in ordinary things. 

Whitney Oldenburg loves making art from found objects. Born from a variety of ordinary materials, like rock, clay, string, tubing, and various home goods (including ice trays), her unexpected art forms feel firm, spongy, smooth, rigid, flexible or coarse to the touch. And they look kinda weird!

Not surprisingly, the Long Island City-based artist says she’s “inspired by daily life.” And a fascination with the so-called delicate balance and reciprocal impacts humans and objects have on one another, shapes her highly imaginative creations.

Oldenburg’s must-see “Loose Ends” solo exhibition – now on view at the Materials for the Arts (MFTA) gallery in Long Island City – celebrates the beauty of everyday stuff and explores the (perhaps universal) desire to keep things tightly bound or complete, when they so easily can become unraveled. 

Stop by and engage with these amazing sculptures that were conjured up during her Fall 2019 residency at MFTA when she was granted unlimited access to the supplies in their 35,000 square-foot warehouse of donated materials to incorporate in her exhibit.

“Oldenburg is able to show how the shapes and textures of modern, human-made materials reflect beautiful, natural occurrence. Her sculpture of giant orange tubes forms a massive, 31-foot-long organic sea creature, humanoid form that interlaces wall pieces that feel like they could be fossils or a coral reef,” said MFTA Director of Education John Cloud Kaiser, who oversees the Artist-in-Residence program, which provides support and studio space for creatives whose practice involves the out-of-the-box reuse of materials. 

“MFTA has been exceedingly supportive and the resources have been incredible. There’s a really strong sense of community that can sometimes be difficult to find,” said Oldenburg. “I feel very grateful for being able to participate. I also love being able to access an enormous quantity of supplies without feeling a financial burden.”

Her masterpieces, many of which include complex configurations of knotted ropes and string, range in size from 13 inches to 31 feet. Made from ventilation tubing and rope, that humongous (aforementioned) sculpture called “Shoe Lace” – which extends the length of one gallery wing – is the largest work to be installed in the MFTA gallery to date. 

“Whitney Oldenburg truly transformed the materials from our warehouse to make works that are powerful examples of and advocates for creative reuse and sustainable art making,” said MFTA Education Associate Omar Olivera, who helps coordinate the residency program. “Even though the materials that the works are made of are still apparent – rope, rock, paint – the pieces are beings unto themselves, with their own internal structure and logic.” 

Kaiser added: “Thanks to the MFTA Artist-in-Residence program, we are able to showcase how top artists can transform reused materials into the highest works of art.”

 Oldenburg has a Masters from Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has been shown in New York City, Chicago, Richmond, Houston, Miami, and Ottawa.

Loose Ends will be on view at the MFTA gallery (33-00 Northern Blvd., 3rd Floor) until Friday, March 6. Gallery hours: Mon. through Fri. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 718-729-2088

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