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Buttons Are Art at New York City Gallery


“A Harlem Hangover,” by Beau McCall is on display for 'The Button Show' at the Rush Arts Gallery in New York City. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

“A Harlem Hangover,” by Beau McCall is on display for 'The Button Show' at the Rush Arts Gallery in New York City. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)


No one can deny that buttons are an important clothing device.

But, can they rise to the level of art? Organizers of an exhibit in New York City think so.

Peter "Souleo" Wright organized "The Button Show," at Rush Arts Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Eleven artists used the small, ordinary objects to create sculptures, portraits and wearable art. Some of the works are political, some are personal and others are just fun.

Curator Peter “Souleo” Wright poses for a portrait at the Rush Arts Gallery for The Button Show, Jan. 20, 2016, in New York.

Curator Peter “Souleo” Wright poses for a portrait at the Rush Arts Gallery for The Button Show, Jan. 20, 2016, in New York.

Wright said each artist reimagines and repurposes the buttons to make art. "What I tried to do with this show," he said "was look at artists who were elevating that level of craft."

He said he wanted the button art to be comparable to a painting "because of the amount of detail and precision in the work.”

Artist Beau McCall produced "A Harlem Hangover." It looks like a wine bottle that fell over on a table. A stream of connected red buttons hang over the side, like wine flowing down. Similar red buttons form a small pool on the floor.

McCall layers buttons of different shapes and sizes to create the bottle. The stitching that holds them together is also part of the artistic design.

For San Francisco-based artist Lisa Kokin, buttons are highly personal. She said her father was an upholsterer. After he died in 2001, she created a portrait of him using only buttons. That memorial to her father led to other button portraits, including those of activists Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.

Kokin also makes button sculptures. A sculpture of her dog Chico is among the works in the show. She first built a structure of wire. Then she covered it in old and new buttons. She connects them all with thread.

Kokin said, "It is as though I am painting with buttons."

Others use buttons for details. Artist Amalia Amaki of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, placed them on and around old photographs. Los Angeles artist Camilla Taylor attached buttons to three large sculptures that look like headless animals with long, narrow legs.

"The Button Show" ends March 12. The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation paid for the exhibition. The foundation was created in 1995 by the Simmons brothers: artist Danny, hip-hop producer Russell and rapper Rev. Run. The foundation seeks to bring the arts to urban youth and to provide support for new artists.

I’m Caty Weaver.

The AP reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

button – n. a small, usually round piece of plastic, glass, metal, etc., that is sewn to a piece of clothing and is pushed through a loop or hole to fasten one part of the clothing to another part

sculpture n. a piece of art that is made by carving or molding clay, stone, metal, etc.

portrait n. a painting, drawing, or photograph of a person that usually includes only the person's head and shoulders

elevate – v. to raise

precision – n. exactness or accuracy

upholsterer – n. a person whose work is to cover furniture with cloth, leather, etc.

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