This Artist Turned a New York Dumpster-Diving Odyssey Into Sculpture. Now, He’s Selling It for $70,000 at Frieze
Kevin Harman brought a dumpster to the fair, painstakingly stacking the garbage inside, and created a surprisingly beautiful artwork.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is an authentic J Bass & Son trash dumpster, pitted with rust and filled with a pile of stone, cardboard, wood, and other discarded materials, arranged in a neatly stacked column—and it’s on view at Frieze New York. The piece, titled Skip 16, is the work of Scottish artist Kevin Harman, and its considerable aesthetic appeal may surprise you.
“There’s all sorts of stuff in there, like old fax machines,” Richard Ingleby, of Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery, says to artnet News. He is showing the unconventional work with a selection of Harman’s glassworks created by layering wall paint between the two sheets of glass in a household window.
The dumpster sculpture is actually the 16th in a series the artist began in 2006. Harman normally descends on random construction sites on Friday evenings, after crews have gone home for the week, and spends the weekend converting trash into art.
“When you’re an art student, you are constantly looking for material to use, and you need a space to show,” Harman tells artnet News, describing the series’ genesis. Back when he was starting out, dumpsters solved both problems, providing the raw materials for the work and a self-contained venue for a pop-up exhibition. Plus, Harman adds, “I don’t think it’s illegal.”
The artist says that interactions with the locals are a vital part of making the pieces: “While I’m working, I’ll speak to all the passersby and find out a little bit about the neighborhood,” As you might expect, a grown man rooting around in the trash attracts a fair bit of attention, so the artist has developed a pretty effective deflection tactic. “I invite them all over to the opening on Sunday night when it’s finished,” he says.
Skip 16 is the first piece in the series the artist has made in the US, and it is the first he is attempting to sell. The gallery is setting the price somewhere in the $70,000–80,000 region. (The sculptures are typically temporary additions to the landscape, quickly returning to their original purpose when a new work week starts, and the initial novelty of their presence fades.)
To show this massive work at Frieze, Harman had to do things a little differently. First, there was a matter of finding the right kind of dumpster, as most of those in New York are much bigger than the kind he is used to working with in Europe.
J Bass was the only company using a smaller model, shaped a bit like a wheelbarrow with one lower, sloping wall. The gallery arranged to have a skip overflowing with promising construction detritus reserved for Harman’s exclusive use. (If the piece doesn’t sell, the dumpster will be returned.) The artist then set up shop on the streets of Mount Vernon, just north of the Bronx, where J Bass is headquartered, and got to work.
In order to give fair-goers a real taste of the process, Harman created a short film about the creation of Skip 16. First, the dumpster is emptied piece by piece, then scrubbed clean. Typically, Harman is careful to incorporate each and every bit of trash into the final piece. (With potential collectors in mind, organic material—anything that would decompose—was discarded this go-around.) The artist then sorts the trash by material and color before putting it all back together in a painstakingly arranged pile.
By the end of the weekend spent working, Harman says in the video, “I just want to book a spa or something, have a shave.”
The artist likens the process to creating an orchestral composition. “I’ve got all this stuff lying on the street, but I’m going to put it all in, I’m going to make this score, a beautiful thing,” he explains. “Problem-solving the material into a structure and then standing back and looking at it gives me a massive sense of satisfaction…It’s like changing your room around or folding up your clothes up in your wardrobe. You know how good that feels—it’s amazing!”
See more photos below.
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