In 2004, the results of a BBC survey of 500 art world professionals revealed the most influential work of 20th century art was Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain.”

Duchamp, a member of New York’s Society of Independent Artists, paid the $5 to anonymously submit “Fountain” (which he signed “R.Mutt 1917”) to a show at the Society that would exhibit any work for the entry fee.

It might have been a highly-finished ceramic object — but it just happened to be a mass-produced urinal.

Scandal ensued.

Duchamp’s first “readymade” was his “Bottle Rack” of 1914 — and with it, “found art” was born.

Beth Lipman’s “Bride” at the ICA clearly references Duchamp’s “Bottle Rack” while orienting itself to Duchamp’s most famous work — “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).”

Lipman may deny her “Bride” is bound to Duchamp’s masterpiece, but the connection is utterly transparent — even down to the bits of broken glass.

About 10 feet tall, the Bride is a giant pastry stand that solidly fills the ICA’s front gallery. Its five tiers (same as Duchamp’s “Bottle Rack”) are filled with objects you might find in classical Dutch still-life painting: bottles, fruit and vessels of every sort — all blown in clear glass by Lipman.

The content of Lipman’s work over the past few years has focused on objects from Dutch still-life painting in terms of symbolism, metaphor and artistic perception.

To the Dutch of centuries past, each object in a still life was clearly legible in a symbolic narrative of Christian or domestic morality.

To us, it’s art stuff through a glass darkly.

While I commend Lipman for her role in pressing glass through myopically perceived limitations of craft, I feel she long ago emptied the idea of using glass objects to focus on still-life painting. Moreoever, artists like Josiah McIlheney and Therman Statom (whose chair in PMA’s still-life show was a perfect example) have done this before and better — if with less flash.

Taking on Duchamp, however, changes Lipman’s relationship to her still-life schtick: Duchamp’s readymades effectively smashed the assumption of craftsmanship by establishing “conceptual art.”

I think Duchamp set up the current American idea of seeing art and craft as tensely differentiated or even warring cultural factions. While I don’t buy the logic, there is no denying America sees craft as something less than art. This conflict has energized artists working from both sides of the issue — and in this light, Lipman’s “Bride” has something to say.

That Lipman’s proliferated objects are badly blown glass is less a flaw than a flaunting of their proud status as craft.

They show that craft is the vessel for concept or content. Blowing all that glass — Lipman hints — proves individual intention as opposed to conceptual art’s need for curatorial tricks like signatures, exhibition guidelines or other external framing devices.

The ICA’s middle-gallery sports a pair of Lipman’s corner pieces. In Maine, monochromatically-black sculptures comprising scores of collected components inevitably echo Louise Nevelson: Lipman’s elegantly spare, middle-gallery pair is no exception.

However handsome, this Nevelsonesque pair conceptually fades into the background noise of her broader still-life project. Lipman’s gestures towards personal narratives — such as a toy or a purse — lead distinctively away from broader cultural content and towards personal secrets.

Lipman’s four photos of glass are also more branding than demanding: Without actual blown glass, they seem like buying wine just for the bottle.

In the Lunder Gallery, Kirsten Hassenfeld’s 10 “Blueware” pieces insist on a Delftware sensibility soaked in a domestic aesthetic weighted towards the Chinese end of the blue/white porcelain (“China”) traded by the Dutch over centuries.

Somehow, Hassenfeld’s paper/acrylic sculptures not only recall the domestic qualities of Delft porcelain, but they solidify the cultural context of Lipman’s imagery.

The first and newest of Hassenfeld’s sculptures hangs from the ceiling by dozens of gossamer monofilaments. Made of found objects — wood, plastic, metal and otherwise — it floats like a mini-city in the clouds pretending to be a chandelier with happy ambitions to rise up and be elsewhere.

On the floor below “White Treen” is its counter — the taut and tiny “Black Treen” (treens are minor, wooden, domestic objects). It is a knotty city of bottles, rings, bracelets and other possibly lathe-turned objects, set on a miniature lake of old mirrors.

Hassenfeld’s blue-tipped rings of varnished/frosted paper exude the exquisite logic of wedding cakes. Fussy but delicious, they surge like the branches or roots of cities, trees or dream architecture — organic growth, but culled and focused by culture.

Maybe because of its domestic camouflage, Hassenfeld’s work lacks the razor snap of Lipman’s — but its messaging is more insistent if vaguer: international (if ancient) trade, cultural exchange, craftsmanship, capitalism, organic logic and so on.

Hassenfeld reminds us we often don’t see what’s right in front of our noses: And she demands to know what camouflages this domestic aesthetic.

“Meticulous Ferment” is a gorgeous show, ripe with plucky content. It’s a chance to see two notable and promising artists crossing into yet greener fields.


Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]