Increasingly, in the realm of Contemporary art, an artist’s choice of material bring deep implications for the symbolic, conceptual, material and empirical meaning of a work of art. This theme explores the relationship between matter and meaning—how material visually communicates meaning through a variety of ways. Artists across time have infused materials not only with ritual and symbolic significance, but also social, political, and economic functions. Here, materials convey or evoke a narrative beyond the object itself. Material as Meaning takes into account the vehicle or materiality of which it manifests itself.

Shinique Smith’s bundle Something from Nothing, for instance, was originally installed as part of the Project Atrium series in her installation Quickening. It consists of found clothing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to comment on the resilient communities in its aftermath. The acquired clothing was donated to a church in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when New Orleans refused the donation in lieu of funds. The use of these found materials, such as blue jeans and quilted floral pullovers, communicates loss and the profound impact of the storm, while also addressing the resilient communities rebounding and building “something from nothing.”

Other artists in Material as Meaning include Radcliffe Bailey, Robert Rauschenberg, Lorna Simpson, and Memphis Wood, among others.