At Home with Artists
Ted Degener (American, b. 1948) has spent more than 50 years road-tripping across the United States seeking encounters with the makers of art environments—artists who transformed personal spaces like homes, gardens and studios into continually evolving, site-specific and life-encompassing works of art. Degener’s pursuit was set in motion in 1970 after he learned about Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles, inspiring his first cross-country road trip. This initial trip sparked a fascination that resulted in Degener photographing more than 400 artists in and with their work, in addition to roadside attractions, eccentric festivals and other American cultural activities. To this day, he continues to travel the country to photograph the art and life of artists.
Oftentimes, documentation of art environments fails to capture even a small fraction of the magic of experiencing the place in person—of finding yourself enveloped within the creative work of another. However, Degener’s photos do not attempt the impossible task of transporting a viewer to a place. These portraits capture the artist inhabiting their work—those projects many of the artists have pursued over a lifetime, growing with and within their environments. The photographs capture the joy of making and the artists’ pride in sharing their creations with the world. These images reveal the one thing that many environments are incomplete without—the dynamic presence of their makers—a presence that can never be recreated once the artist has left the site or passed away. Degener’s collection of portraits comes together to reveal something like the lives and works of these artists themselves—a lifelong pursuit, an impassioned collecting and the making of something enormous that will never be quite complete.
As many art environments are made out-of-doors and with the use of fragile materials, they are frequently vulnerable to decay and eventual demolition once the artist has left the site or passed away. Sometimes environments are constructed in or on property not owned by the artist or the artist decides that it is time to dismantle the site. Occasionally, art environments that are in danger of destruction are acquired by other institutions (in their entirety or in portions) for their long-term care. Due to circumstances like these, approximately half of the art environments featured in this selection of Degener’s photos no longer exist in their original location.
Ted Degener lives in New Hampshire and regularly contributes photos from his travels to Raw Vision magazine. At Home with Artists is his first major exhibition, highlighting work from the late 1980s to the present.
Get a closer look
An interview with Ted Degener
Learn more about Ted Degener in the article At Home with Artists: The Education of Ted Degener by Annalise Flynn in the museum’s annual publication, The Outsider.