PHOTOS: Art or tchotchkes? Artists use recycled materials at Armory Arts Week 2012

Empty prescription bottles, fake pearls, dice and collectible figures: these aren’t just items you’ll find at grandma’s house. These everyday materials– commonly known as “trash”– are being used in artwork at New York City’s premiere annual arts event, Armory Arts Week.

The following artists embrace recycled materials to create intriguing works of art, which raise an important question. Can tchotchkes become fine art?

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Dolls gone wild

Fountain Art Fair_Evo Love doll

New York artist Evo Love takes familiar objects and recasts them in order to trigger nostalgia and take the viewer “on a journey back to their childhood” (per her website). At the Fountain Art Fair, Evo Love’s booth contained a variety of objects you might recognize from your grandmother’s house: antique dolls, vintage pins, sewing scissors, discarded toys and other nicknacks (commonly called tchotchke here in NYC).

Fountain Art Fair_Evo Love detail

The artist’s work had the desired effect in my case, as I remembered the little wooden shelf my grandmother owned that was filled with miniature porcelain figures.

Fountain Art Fair_Evo Love Exhibit

Evo Love has filled a variety of familiar objects with the trinkets, from the classic display shelves to children’s potty and high chairs. The wood-paneling and hay bales at the artist’s Fountain Art Fair booth help create the “symbolic time capsule” represented in her artwork.

Fountain Art Fair_Evo Love werewolf

Extreme recycling

Volta NY Art Show_Sheila Gallagher plastic paintings 06

In the more refined setting at the Volta Show, artist Sheila Gallagher is also turning seemingly worthless “found” materials into art. Based in Boston, Gallagher took everyday objects from her own life– toothpaste caps, makeup containers, prescription pill bottles and credit cards– and melted them into plastic paintings.

Volta NY Art Show_Sheila Gallagher plastic paintings 05

If you look closely at her work, you can read the labels on each object. According to the Dodge Gallery, which represents Gallagher, her work is more than a personal journey:

“Acting like time capsules, the plastic paintings are, in a sense, material biographies of Gallagher’s life, as well as encapsulation of objects from this particular moment in our culture.”

Volta NY Art Show_Sheila Gallagher plastic paintings

Most fascinating is the artist’s use of garden imagery, which contrasts with the man-made plastic materials.

Volta NY Art Show_Sheila Gallagher plastic paintings 03

From afar, her paintings represent classic scenes of nature with colorful flowers and vibrant green vines. However, on closer inspection the flowers are created from melted bottle caps. Gallagher truly accomplishes her goal of creating “saturated gardens of junk.”

What do you think of artists using everyday “junk” for their work?

>> Click here for more coverage of Armory Arts Week 2012

About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.