Collections Highlights: The Thing Itself


“The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains.” – James Baldwin

Traditional European and early American art held a mirror up to the world. Art may also represent the realities beneath the world’s illusions. This exhibition takes a third path, highlighting art made directly from the things of the world. Primarily showcasing the YAM’s permanent collection, it also marks the debut of Butte artist Steve Wellman’s “Useless Objects.”

Best known as a painter, Wellman channels his humor and Dada sensibilities through multi-media sculpture and layered musical compositions. Once-functional objects are transformed by shifts in perspective, recombination, inlays, and repetition. Like the objects, the titles are both humorous and poignant, evoking lost ways of working and being in the world. 

New gifts to the YAM’s collection by Missoula Artist Terry Karson (1950–2017) are prominently featured. Karson served as curator of the Yellowstone Art Museum from 1988–1993. His compositions bridge two and three dimensions, conceptual art, fine craft and architecture. Made from commercial packaging and other detritus that he collected, arranged, and transformed, the work is curated as much as it is constructed. Sheer scale and repetition allude to the power and ubiquity of corporate branding and commerce.

Also on exhibit are sculptures, collages, and mixed media works based on found materials by Deborah Butterfield, Tom Foolery, Robert Harrison, Jennifer Hawke, Kate Hunt, Tracy Linder, Sara Mast, Jon Lodge, Neltje, Robert Rauschenberg, Arin Waddell, and Robert DeWeese.