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What defines an icon? That question is at the heart of the new season of the PBS series Art in the Twenty-First Century. For artist Alex Da Corte, icons are “characters or images or objects that exist within a world of dreams.”

In an exclusive interview aired as part of art21.org/watch/art-in-the-twenty-first-century/s11/alex-da-corte-in-everyday-icons/”Art21’s 11th season, Da Corte reflects on his circuitous path from a student of animation who was more interested in sculpture, to becoming a next-gen Pop Artist. 

While his peers were creating works from wood and metal, Da Corte remembers being drawn to sewing and the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg. “This idea of embracing these things, softening these things that seem to be hard is my way of taking down that machismo a notch and to say, like, ‘There’s room for a gentler, more tender way of understanding what it means to be human,’” Da Corte explains.

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 11 episode, "Everyday Icons," 2023. © Art21, Inc. 2023.

Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 11 episode, “Everyday Icons,” 2023. © Art21, Inc. 2023.

From one of his earliest projects, filming himself re-staging a famous portrait of Oldenburg walking down a city street carrying a massive sculptural toothpaste bottle, the artist began his own practice of replication, taking cultural icons and re-defining them in his own manner. “Things that make up my sculptural vocabulary, but in miniature” often become the foundation for larger installations, like the sculpture of Big Bird balanced on an Alexander Calder-esque mobile that he staged for the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art rooftop commission

Da Corte often dresses up as ubiquitous characters, spanning a range of cultural touchstones from Frankenstein’s monster to the aforementioned Big Bird to the rapper Eminem to Marcel Duchamp’s famous altar-ego Rrose Sélavy. The artist collapses time and place to infuse

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