Lesson: Unmonumental: Fragmentation, Fragility, and Consumer Culture

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Global Studies, Social Studies, Literary Arts, and Studio Arts
  • "Huffy Howler," 2004."Huffy Howler," 2004.
  • "Elefant," 2006."Elefant," 2006.
  • "Untitled," 2006."Untitled," 2006.
  • "Untitled," 2006."Untitled," 2006.
  • "Canon enigmâtico a 108 voces," 2005."Canon enigmâtico a 108 voces," 2005.


Written by Marc Mayer and Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs.

Fragmentation, fragility, and consumer culture are important themes explored in the exhibition “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century.” This lesson investigates artwork and art practice that uses everyday objects as key art materials. Delicately created from objects within arm’s reach, this artwork suggests a universe on the verge of being completely taken over by waste. It is concerned with its place in the world considering both materials and ideas.


• Students will explore the ideas about consumerism, fragility, and fragmentation
• Students will investigate works of art and make connections to broader social and cultural issues
• Students will develop an understanding of the exhibition and contemporary art practices


Consumerism is the fact or practice of an increasing consumption of goods and resources.
Fragility is the state of being asily broken, damaged, or destroyed; frail, tenuous, or flimsy.
Fragmentation is the act or process of breaking into fragments.
Assemblage is an artistic process in which a three-dimensional artwork is created by putting together found, created, or manufactured materials, objects, or fragments. It is an improvised but intentional grouping of different objects, composed by trial and error out of materials at hand.
Readymade is a found, ordinary, everyday pre-manufactured object that is presented as a work of art. The artist Marcel Duchamp invented the term in 1913 when he called a common bottle rack, snow shovel, comb, and urinal his “readymades.” In this way, an artwork is anything that an artist selects and designates as an artwork.


Isa Gensken, Elefant, 2006
John Bock, Untitled, 2006
Abraham Cruzvillegas, Cánon enimg´tico a 108 voces, 2005
Rachel Harrison, Huffy Howler, 2004

Lesson Strategy

Isa Gensken
Elefant, 2006
Wood, plastic tubes, plastic foils, vertical blinds, plastic toys, artificial flowers, fabric, bubble wrap, lacquer, and spray paint
79 × 86.5 × 39.5 in

• Looking closely, what objects do you recognize within this artwork?
• How does the artist juxtapose different materials?
• Why do you think the artist choose to use these kind of material for her sculpture?
• Where do you think the artist might have found these objects?
• Describe the composition of this artwork. What path does your eye take?
• How does gravity impact the materials in the artwork? How is it balanced?
• How is the pedestal incorporated into the artwork?
• How does the artist change seemingly different materials into one artwork?
• How does Gensken incorporate fragmentation into the work?
• Does the work seem stable or fragile?
• Which part of the work speak to ideas of stability or fragility or both?
• What is the work’s title? What do you think it means?

“Her largest work in this exhibition is titled Elefant and although it doesn’t really look like an elephant it is in a way an elephant’s equivalent, if that animal, say, were described in the language of things in the world—of everyday things—of culture rather than of nature.” – Laura Hoptman, Kraus Family Senior Curator

• Do you think this artwork looks like an elephant? Why or why not?
• What do you think the curator means by an elephant’s equivalent if it were made out of everyday things, of cultural objects rather than natural objects?
• How might this artwork address issues of fragility in our world?
• What story might this artwork tell?

John Bock
Untitled, 2006
Cardboard, photo, and paper bag
14 × 12 × 8 in

• What are some materials used in these artworks?
• How does the scale compare to Isa Gensken’s work, Elefant?
• How are the materials the same or different?
• Where might you find the original materials? How does this artist use of materials that others might discard?
• How is the scale different from other works in the show?
• How is this work constructed?
• Does the work speak to qualities of monumentality or unmonumentality? What are those qualities?
• How does his artwork relate to architecture and landscapes? Does the use of imagery support these ideas?
• How does the installation support the idea of architectural models or landscape?
• How does the artist use images in his work? What do you think the purpose is?
• What might this artwork say about our society?
• What elements of fragility and fragmentation does this artwork illuminate?
• How does this work speak about disposable culture?

John Bock uses materials, mostly containers for food, cutouts from magazines, and cardboard. The artist transforms everyday materials that are usually discarded or thrown away, into assemblages that play with the idea of architectural models and landscapes. The artworks are tiny and fragile and compile and juxtapose fragments of disposable objects.

Abraham Cruzvillegas
Cánon enimg´tico a 108 voces, 2005
Buoys, fine wire, steel wire, synthetic and natural fibers
Dimensions variable

• What materials do you see in this artwork?
• How are the individual buoys different in scale, color, and shape?
• How is this sculpture constructed or put together?
• Where are these objects normally found?
• What is the original purpose of a buoy?
• Are they new? Do they seemed used or weathered? How do these qualities add to the work?
• What activities are associated with the waterways?
• If these objects are normally found near or in water, how does it change the context to see it hanging in a gallery?
• How does this artist manipulate materials from every day?
• What do you think the artist is trying to convey by hanging buoys from the ceiling?

In this piece, these individual objects have been found and collected on a beach in Cancun when the artist was on vacation. These buoys refer to the travel of freights and luxury liners across the oceans. Abraham Cruzvillegas uses found objects and transforms them into interesting pieces that are full of meaning connecting life experiences and social context.

• How might this artwork talk about social contexts? (Consider labor, global trade, and travel.)
• How might the work speak to notions of privilege versus service?
• How does the artist use everyday materials and reconfigure them to makes us think about broader issues?
• How do these ideas relate to the themes of consumerism, fragility, and fragmentation?

The artist states in an interview, “After transforming something, I want it to be ready to be transformed again, by interpretation, by physical decay, by its own weight, by time.”

• How do you interpret this statement when considering this work?

Rachel Harrison
Huffy Howler, 2004
Polystyrene, cement, Parex, wood, acrylic, Huffy Howler bicycle, various black hand bags, rocks, stones, gravel, brick, artificial fur, long metal pole, slightly enlarged publicity still of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and binder clips
84 × 48 ×30 in

• Describe what you see.
• How is the sculpture constructed? What materials are used?
• Are these materials found or purchased? How does the artist use the formal elements of line, color, and shape in this work?
• How does the artist use complementary colors? How does the complement of yellow and purple impact our senses? Is there a seductive quality to the use of paint and texture? How?
• How is the pedestal constructed? Describe the texture of the pedestal.
• How is the pedestal similar or different from the pedestal in the artwork Elefant?
• How is the work balanced? How is it counterbalanced?
• Does this artwork speak of time?
• If this work had a gender, what would it be? Which elements make you draw that conclusion? Do you consider those elements to be masculine or feminine?
• Why do you think the front tire is flat?
• What role does the image play in the sculpture? How does it add meaning or cultural associations? Which movie is this image of Mel Gibson from? (Braveheart)
• Which elements of humor and irony does the artist incorporate into the work?
• Do you think the sculpture is honoring or targeting Mel Gibson? Why?
• How might this artwork speak about the fragility of society?
• Why do you think the work is entitled Huffy Howler?
• Can elements of this work be considered a readymade?
• How are celebrities and commodities interrelated?

Rachel Harrison includes pop cultural references within her sculptures and asks her viewers to look closely, both physically and conceptually. Images, photographs, celebrity snapshots, and everyday objects are materials she regularly uses in her sculpture. The artist exercises a tough sensibility using humor and irony to attack issues of gender, culture, and celebrity.

• How might the artwork we discussed today speak to a world overcrowded by goods and waste?
• As a consumer, consider your habits. What things do you discard most? Could those thrown away object be recycled and used in another context? How?
• How have artists in the exhibition utilized recycled materials?
• How do our habits as consumers impact our world?
• Why might our world be considered fragile?


Have students visit the Earth Day Web Site and take the ecological footprint quiz. Based on how students answer the questions on the quiz, determine how many planets would be needed if everyone used the same amount of resources. After taking the quiz, have students develop an action plan, list five ways they can to reduce the amount of goods and fuel they consume and waste they produce.


We have utilized the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Visual Arts to assure that we meet the benchmarks and the strands of learning, we incorporate all five strands into the lesson plans: art making, literacy in the visual arts, making connections, community and cultural resources, and careers and lifelong learning in the visual arts.

Blueprint for Teaching and Learning About Art
1. Art Making
2. Looking at and Discussing Art
3. Developing Visual Art Vocabulary
4. Reading and Writing About Art
5. Problem Solving: Interpreting and Analyzing Art
6. Recognizing the Societal, Cultural, and Historical Significance of Art, Connecting Art to Other Disciplines
7. Observing and Interpreting the World
8. Awareness of Careers in Visual Arts
9. Arts for Enjoyment and Lifelong Learning

National Standards (mcrel.org)

Art Connections
Standard 1. Understands connections among the various artforms and other disciplines

Visual Arts
Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
Standard 3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts

Literary Arts
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Additional Resources

Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman, and Massimiliano Gioni, Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century. New York: Phaidon Press, 2007

Tom Morton, ‘Found and Lost,’ Frieze, Vol. 102. October 2006 (Interview with Abraham Cruzvillegas)

Earth Day Network