It isn’t every day that you can admire a piece in a museum and then use it to eat your dinner later that night. But the artist of this dinnerware set, Eddie Dominguez, strives for both artistry and functionality in his pieces. While these pieces look like a tromp l’oeil painting or a sculptural installation when arranged in their accompanying cabinet, they actually constitute a full, 27-piece dining set, complete with plates, bowls, cups, tumblers, and serving dishes. Using items as beautiful as these in an everyday activity, however, definitely inspires intimidation; former director of the Cooper Hewitt, Dianne Pilgrim, explained, “I’d love to use [Dominguez’s] plates sometime, but I know I’d never get them back in the right places.”[i]
A drawing by Dominguez, shown below, demonstrating how to arrange the pieces of his sculpture-turned-dinnerware set, reveals that the artist did indeed intend these pieces to have their own “right places.” He intentionally confuses the border between fine art and functional objects, and his work creates a tension that makes one consider what kinds of objects these two categories actually define. For Dominguez, they are not mutually exclusive.
The beauty of this Dinnerware as Fish Aquarium set is that it does not presume to be anything other than what it is. Simply, this is a set of sculpted and painted earthenware pieces resembling various fish and plants that have been thoughtfully shaped such that they can function as dinnerware. Dominguez himself remarked, “Everything tries to be what it is. If you set your dinner table with this, I can guarantee it will be fun.”[ii]
Yet he sells himself short – this set is certainly fun, but a lot more can be learned from observing exactly how Dinnerware as Fish Aquarium presents itself. The way that Dominguez has painted these pieces shares similarities with the style of Abstract Expressionist painters who found inspiration in the American Southwestern landscape (as can be seen in Albuquerque, 1960, by Elaine de Kooning). Yet, in an example of how diverse the various influences of Dominguez’s work can be, the careful and reverent assembling of the pieces is reminiscent of the arrangement of religious figures in a Neapolitan crèche.
Furthermore, the color palette and exuberance of pattern on Dominguez’s dinnerware pieces recall the folk art tradition of the American Southwest that surrounded Dominguez during his childhood in Tucamcari, New Mexico. This folk art style blends the influences of Old World Spanish tradition and southwestern Native American sensibilities.
The dinnerware set is also a product of Dominguez’s personal fascination with domestic interiors. He appreciates the idea that household items can become imbued with a particular brand of sacredness simply because they have personal significance to the owner. Dinnerware as Fish Aquarium demonstrates a celebration of and reverence for everyday objects and allows everyone to see the magic that Dominguez has seen in these objects all along.
Thanks to Danielle Johnson for highlighting this object from the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department’s collection. It has been a great summer in PDDA!
[i] Dianne Pilgrim quoted in “Seeking Beauty: What 22 style-setters just can’t stop thinking about,” Elle Décor (1996): 96.
[ii] Eddie Dominguez quoted in Nancy Ellis, “Master of Many Trades,” FOCUS/Santa Fe Magazine, October-November/December (1990): 33.