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New exhibit tells story of groundbreaking program that united arts and industry
Arts/Industry artist Tom Spleth with Tile Painting in the Kohler Co. Pottery, 1987. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts/Industry Artist Archive.
SHEBOYGAN, WI.- In 2014, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center marks the fortieth anniversary of its world-renowned Arts/Industry residency program with a sweeping exhibition and 300-page book titled Arts/Industry: Collaboration and Revelation. Over the course of more than 500 residencies, artists from around the world have worked in the Pottery, Iron and Brass Foundries, and Enamel Shop of Kohler Co. in Kohler, Wisconsin to create entirely new bodies of work that would have been difficult if not impossible to make in their studios. Curated by Arts/Industry’s founder, Director Ruth DeYoung Kohler, the exhibition surveys nearly 350 works of art created by artists-in-residence throughout the four decades.

Arts/Industry was initiated by the Arts Center and Kohler Co. in 1974 to spark collaborations between artists and industrial artisans. Emerging and established artists from throughout the world work for two to six months on the factory floor, alongside the men and women who cast and finish Kohler Co. products. Artists-in-residence often use the word “transformative” to describe the effect the experience has on their careers and ways of thinking. While industry seeks efficient production of great design, artists continually push the unexpected, asking “What if?”

“From day one, a critical part of our mission has been to support underrepresented and emerging artists and art forms. The Arts Center has always been a place where art gets made, not just exhibited,” said Ruth DeYoung Kohler. “We took a risk 40 years ago when we launched this collaborative experiment, and are thrilled to be able to celebrate the breadth of work and artists’ careers that the program has helped spur.”

Themes explored in the exhibition include experimentation with new media, the multiplicity of industrial production, artists’ inventive reinterpretations of plumbingware, and the ambitious scale of artwork made possible by working in the factory. The exhibition and accompanying anniversary publication provide compelling documentation of Arts/Industry’s powerful contributions to the development of individual artists’ work, the program’s critical impact on the broader art world, and the mutually rewarding interactions among artists, industrial artisans and the local community.

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