Tom Butter by Mark Magill

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 65 Fall 1998
Bombcover 65 1024X1024

Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

Magill Butter Body

Tom Butter, Big Wheel, 1997, fiberglass, steel, 74 x 74 x 24 inches. Large pink fiberglass wheel rotates.

By his own admission, Tom Butter has spent a lot of time reading Donald Judd. What Butter shares with Judd is the belief that the physical world is due a tremendous amount of respect.

Tom’s father was a chemical engineer. Tom tells the story of when his “old man” was called to give a deposition in a case concerning pollution in a plant where he once worked. At one point, one of the lawyers questioned him about a certain chemical, ethylene. The lawyer asked him what was in it, as if it were the recipe for a coffee cake. The old man replied with some vigor that it is a chemical. A hyrdro-carbon. It’s made up of atoms of carbon and hydrogen. It is what it is. There’s nothing “in” it.

This engineer’s view of things as they are is embodied with great poetry in Butter’s work. It is significant that the skin of his work is translucent, that the structure is openly apparent, and that the work, in the case of his most recent pieces, functions. And what do they do? They do exactly what they are. Which, you might say, is entirely the point.

Judd was known to hold forth a particular mystical West Texas expression that could sum up the artist’s relationship to his work: “Root, hog, or die.” The phrase can be better understood after one has observed the nature of that particular source of bacon—if “hog” is taken to be a form of direct address, and “root” an active verb and not the business end of a vegetable. It could be taken, then, as an injunction to action, to get one’s nose directly into the nature of things.

In Tom Butter’s case, it’s the effort to have things be themselves and at the same time be exactly what they seem.

65 Tombutter 1 Body

Tom Butter, Navigator, 1996, fiberglass, wire 82 x 45 x 16 inches. Wire cage on top rotates when pushed.

Magill Butter 2 Body

Tom Butter, Would, 1997, hardware, 15 x 24 x 17 inches.

Article 2181 65 Tombutter 2

Tom Butter, Night Train, 1997, fiberglass, steel, 90 x 53 x 15 inches. Steel wheel rotates.

O.B. by Tom Butter
Ester Partegàs by Eduardo Abaroa
Partegas Ester 01

Mold-making and photography have an ambiguous relationship to whatever they reproduce. They can deliver the most faithful rendition of a given model, but it is precisely this similarity that makes them extraordinary, unreal.

Harry Bertoia’s Complete Sonambient Collection by Steve Roden
760775199 12012015 Bertoia Harry 01 Bomb 134

If you don’t know Harry Bertoia’s work, you should know that he was somewhat of a polymath.

Barbara Kasten by Leslie Hewitt
Barbara Kasten 01

Kasten’s photographs capture the fleeting interplay of color, form, and light in the geometric objects she assembles. She spoke to Leslie Hewitt about the expansion of their shared medium.

Originally published in

BOMB 65, Fall 1998

Featuring interviews with Yusef Komunyakaa & Paul Muldoon, Ian McKellen, Sam Taylor-Wood, Thomas Nozkowski, Geoffrey O’Brien, Alexander Nehamas, and Mark Richard.

Read the issue
Bombcover 65 1024X1024