|Alejandro Almanza Pereda, White Carpet Treatment, 2009. 20x36."|
Pizzutti Collection. Courtesy of CCAD.
Even in 2009, the world was embracing the CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). Incandescent bulbs will soon be entirely off store shelves. Almanza's carpet is made, moreover, not of the bulbs one puts in a lamp, but of round, satin-finish ones used in a make-up mirror, or even on a marquee; they radiate the abundance of light that signals old-fashioned movie-star glamour. This photograph of White Carpet Treatment in a dark room—like a marquee against a night sky—reveals a pattern carved out by disabled bulbs, in this case a traditional, double diamond rug pattern. But as installed in the Canzani Center Gallery, it sits on a concrete floor in a brightly-lit room, and it hovers like a shimmering cloud.
The title, White Carpet Treatment, suggests a couple of locutions, "red carpet treatment" and "white glove treatment." The Red Carpet is where the principals of marquee glamour pose in the spotlight, even though they are shadows of real royalty for whom the red carpet was first unfurled. White glove treatment is the painstaking care with which important people are treated. Almanza's VIP carpet, however attractive, is reduced to symbol only, though: it cannot be walked. It is brittle glitter only, barely big enough to stand on. What a brilliant use he's made of lightbulbs—soon to be as outdated as glamour and royalty?
|Jim Hodges, Study for a Brighter Light,2002, 32.5x25" framed. Collection of Dave and|
Nancy Gill. Courtesy of CCAD.
|Study for a Brighter Light, detail|
|Jeff Sonhouse, Meeting at the Crossroads, 2003, 65x75." Pizzuti|
Collection. Courtesy of CCAD.
|Sonhouse, Meeting at the Crossroads, detail.|
Since the close, painted imitation of reality is one important element of Sonhouse's painting, the use of real products (obvious pretenders to reality) stands in a different relationship to the whole than in a work like Almanza's light-bulb sculpture. Here the mixed-medium is the message, and would seem to support interest in mixed personalities, mixed identities, and mixed social roles. Does an Afro made of matches mean something "real" and incendiary—"in your face?" Does a trompe l'oeil pocket handkerchief suggest the elusive, inscrutable reality to be guessed at?
In her catalogue essay, "Marginal Cost," Dent tells us, "'Supply and Demand' examines the work of artists who...contemplate the necessity of the things we think we cannot live without. As the economic health of modernized nations has become more and more dependent on the production and distribution of commodities, developed countries have found themselves drowning under the weight of consumer goods. Many visual artists have found this situation as an opportunity to consider the consequences of a global economy and the possibilities for creative outlets."
The works I've mentioned don't do that. Two works by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz do. Muniz has gained fame not only for work like the pieces in this show, but for his film, Wasteland, which documents his efforts to improve conditions for trash-pickers in Rio de Janeiro.
|Vik Muniz, Orestes Pursued by the Furies, 2006, 53x40." Collection of|
Chuck and Joyce Shenk. Courtesy of CCAD.
|Vik Muniz, Medea about to Kill|
her Children, 2006, 50x40." Collection of
Mary Kidder. Courtesy of CCAD.
|Vik Muniz, Medea...Detail, interior of figure showing use of washers.|
|Vik Muniz background includes typewriter, propeller, muffler.|
Neither Orestes, Pursued by the Furies nor Medea, about to Kill Her Children protests the heaps of junk, however. Where Muniz the man is apparently involved in social action to improve the lives of people who have to survive off trash; and though he does this by making art works like these and selling them, it doesn't add up that the artworks themselves protest the existence of the junk or constitute activism. The piquant point in this work is the contrast between trash and cultural treasure. Depending on where one stands, either junk or the art canon may be deplored; either may be valued. But about recycling, or the excess of abandoned consumer goods, I think there is no political statement in the works themselves.
|U.S. first class postage stamps, 2011|
For others, on the other hand, consumerism's cast-offs represent abundance and play. Tinkerers, flea market optimists, antiquers and collectors will take the risks of finding golden needles in the flotsam and jetsam. They believe not in recycling, but in alchemy.
|Jean Tinguely, Heureka, at Zurichhorn. Photo by Roland zh.;|
licensed under Creative Commons.
|Simon Rodia, Nuestro Pueblo, detail,|
Photo by Polylerus; licensed under Creative
Along the same lines, outsiders and artists working in folk traditions have always re-purposed consumer goods as art materials. Simon Rodia's Watts Towers (Nuestro Pueblo) are built from found objects secured to armatures of pipes and mortar. They incorporate cast-offs from a pottery factory, bed frames, and soda bottles. Rodia scrounged materials himself; his project attracted found contributions from many interested people.
|Bill Miller, JFK Freak Flag,14x20." Courtesy of|
the Lindsay Gallery
Especially in the Third World, discarded consumer goods are recycled into striking, useful items by crafts workers who profit by their sales. These photographs show how of newspapers that are rolled and used to make mats. The coin purse is made of woven candy wrappers. But these charming works, unlike those sponsored by Vik Muniz, fetch $5, not tens of thousands. Why? They are consumer commodities, not art, that singular commodity that few can afford.
When it comes down to activism—doing something about the proliferation of trash—workshop artisans have it over the artists: They are consistently and systematically doing something to reduce the junk heap. They're trying to earn a living, but their occupation is all about the materials.
Obsolescence; death; waste; greed; abundance; material display: These are all themes for art. Many materials can be used to express them. The connection between materials used and ideas arising from a finished work of art is a result of the artist's skill. It's unlikely that reassigned materials will tell the story by themselves.
"Supply and Demand" is a terrific show. Dent's catalogue is printed as a glossy pamphlet the right size to carry and read—or to ignore—while viewing the show. Refreshingly, there is not a single label in the gallery. Whenever you're ready for discussion, you have a booklet with the thoughts of a deeply informed person who's been reflecting on contemporary art for her whole career: the ideal interlocutor. My disagreements with Dent on some points are a sign of the show's strength and ability to engage. She gives us great work and pitches guiding ideas. The table's set for a smorgasbord; let the viewer step up.