repurposing found objects in the artwork of Jac Leirner



Conceptual Brazilian artist Jac Leirner (b. 1961) has been showing internationally since the 1990s but I have a feeling she is about to explode into the realm of the mega artist.  In the next 10 years, I see her breaking out from being pigeonholed as merely another “Latin American artist” and recognized as a player in the arena of global contemporary art along with her compatriots Beatriz Milhazes and Adriana Varejao.




The idea of conceptualism is that the story behind the work takes precedence over the finished look of the piece.  In most cases, this is not for me.  Call me old fashioned, but I think and understand art by its aesthetic quality and the idea behind a piece is interesting but pretty much irrelevant to my appreciation of the actual finished work.  But many art aficionados and amateurs, especially those that came into the game in the last 10-15 years, want to see ALL art as conceptual and don’t have the capacity to appreciate the aesthetics of a work if the dealer or advisor cannot tell them the story behind, for example, the color red on a fabric or the significance of the rock on a table in the painting!  Can’t we just enjoy art for what it is???




In a few cases conceptualism has great merit and the works of Jac Leirner draw me to them like a sailor lured by the song of the siren.  Leirner works with found and/or banal objects of our consumer culture, re-appropriates them and gives them new value in their recycled form.  So in the art featured here, she works with cigarette packets, cigarette rolling papers, plastic bags of all shapes, sizes and colors and old bank notes that have been de-commissioned and marked by their past users.  And the results, regardless of the “concept”, are beautiful and intriguing compositions that reference Brazilian constructivism, Italian arte povera and American minimalism.  While many of Leirner’s works are oversize like much of contemporary art, the works featured here are easy to fit into domestic spaces.




So while it’s all good and well that Leirner saved cartons and cartons of Marlboro packets that fed her compulsive smoking over years to produce such work as MoMA’s “Lung” and there is a whole message behind its making, I actually find the piece to be aesthetically brilliant and perhaps this is why I think she is about to take the art world by storm – the beauty of her pieces is just as important as the value of the idea behind them which makes them quite appealing. 🙂


richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits (top to bottom):
Jac Leirner, Skin (Zig Zag Kutcorner Slow Burning), 2012. Cigarette rolling papers and glue, © Sandra Burns. Courtesy of the artist.
Jac Leirner, Blue Phase, 1992, 100 banknotes and ink, © the artist.
Jac Leirner ‘Lung’, 1987. Marlboro cigarette packages strung on a polyurethane cord. Collection of Museum of of Modern Art NY.
Jac Leirner, Names, 1989. Plastic Bags, Polyester foam and buckram, © the artist. Photo: Isabella Matheus, Courtesy Galeria Fortes Vilaça and White Cube.