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Consuming Cultures: A Global View

As our global village grows increasingly interconnected, which cultural traditions are preserved, lost, or transformed? This spring, Proof on Main presents a group exhibition featuring artists from North and South America, Europe, and Asia, who examine, with both whimsy and wonder, the evolution of aesthetic and material values in a world of rapid change and mass consumption.

Counterfeit designer fabrics are ubiquitous on streetcorners worldwide, often covering handbags sold to a clientele eager to display symbols of status and wealth. In Luis Gispert’s photographic series, Decepción, the signature interlocking Gs of Gucci, Cs from Chanel, and other designer logos cover entire car interiors, creating a universe of second-degree luxury at once alluring and enigmatic. A conceptual artist working in a variety of media, Brooklyn-based Gispert discovered a thriving industry of mechanics, upholsterers, and others who create these dream cars, which were originally popular among drug dealers. As the accessibility of luxury goods grew, so did the trend. Gispert traveled across several states to photograph these; the landscapes that are digitally integrated into the images were photographed by the artist in sites ranging from Lake Michigan, Death Valley, and Zermatt, Switzerland, to the Grand Tetons, California’s Imperial Sand Dunes, and Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The artist says he was pursuing a desire to “get out of the studio, out into the world;” the resulting works explore layers of longing, both material and metaphoric. The landscapes are dramatic, often majestic, alternately in complement or contrast to the interiors, which range from baroque to garish. Carefully negotiating what he calls “the politics of aesthetics,” Gispert ‘s vision marvels at the evolution of both the natural and the manufactured—though his artist’s sensibility is alluded to in Chanel Jetty; the horizon line includes Robert Smithson’s 1970 earthwork in Rozel Point, Utah. The poignant ambiguity of Gispert’s meditations on the intersection of culture and desire is underscored by the series’ title, Decepción, which means “disappointment” in Spanish—here, deception is also certainly present.

Brand names and logos also appear in works by Ye Hongxing and Pepe Lopez. Ye combines elements of Western painting with Chinese porcelain decorative patterns in her Fusion series, which the artist describes as a reaction to the “swift change in China’s social system.” Referencing rapid industrialization and attendant consumerism, Ye juxtaposes mass-produced, garishly colored stickers with painterly portraits and images of the Buddha, illustrating the contrasts between material and spiritual values in contemporary China.

The Playboy bunny, Superman, Louis Vuitton, the Nike logo, the interlocking symbol of yin and yang are among the prolific visual encylopedia of Pepe Lopez’s Guapisimas. In Lopez’s native Venezuela, these hand-woven food baskets were traditionally decorated by men as wedding gifts to their brides; their designs reflected indigenous aesthetics as well as family names and symbols. As the tourist trade has expanded, designs have changed to appeal to a broader, tourist-driven market in which recognizable logos are often valued more highly than a personal, unique iconography. Lopez’s work—the title of which is “gorgeous”—charts the cultural erasure that often follows the expansive reach of global economics.

Craft-based weaving techniques are used by Brazilian artist Felipe Barbosa to transform soccer balls into “pill balls” in a witty reference to his nation’s perceived addiction to the sport, while Vietnamese-American artist Dinh Q Le weaves photographic strips into quilt-like works. Le left his native Vietnam as a war refugee during the early 1970s, but returned as an adult and learned traditional basket weaving—a practice central to his art, which both preserves a cultural heritage and references the ephemeral—here in these patterned, floral still lifes.

Still life imagery has traditionally addressed issues of ephemerality, preservation, and decay: British artist Marc Quinn’s color-saturated floral prints expose our contemporary idealization of youth and beauty, as well as the artificial means necessary to preserve their appearance. These Portraits of Landscapes are thrice removed from their source: an installation commissioned by the Prada Foundation in 2000, for which Quinn gathered flowering plants from diverse habitats, preserved them in full bloom in liquid silicon and exhibited them in an industrial-size refrigerator. Paintings of this installation became landscapes, the landscapes were then reworked into the prints on view here, their colors heightened and forms flattened, further emphasizing the artifice of preserving the organic.

Despite globalization, traditional cultures and mythologies persist. Traveling through South America, Louisville-based photographer Ross Gordon documented the living and working lives of equine-centered, agricultural communities, including the Ecuadoran chagras featured in the bar. With their fur-covered chaps, bright, woven blankets, and weathered faces, the chagras seem to inhabit a world far from the madding crowd clamoring for designer goods. Another intrepid traveler, Belgian artist Woutter Deruytter, celebrates the mythology of the American West in his Cowboy Code photographs: perhaps an outsider’s eye is best trained to capture the poetry that persists even as cultures evolve and traditions fade.

Past and present mythologies collide in Mexican artist Gonzalo Lebrija’s slow-motion video, Asterión, in which a man in a business suit attempts a nighttime bull ride with a briefcase of papers in hand. Lebrija’s art often addresses corporate culture and landscape; here he joins man and beast, nature and culture in a work that references the present—the corporate world in crisis—and the past. “Asterión,” meaning “ruler of the stars,” is the Greek name for two celebrated kings of Crete, one of whom became the Minotaur, the mythical beast with the features of a bull. Lebrija’s multi-cultural allusions raise timeless questions about the persistent, often hapless human struggle for control.

And nature, under the influence of human behavior, may also spin out of control. Johnston Foster’s site-specific installation, aptly entitled What the Flock?! deploys dozens of near-life-size seagulls throughout the dining areas, the bar, and even headed toward the front door windows, as if attempting escape. What cataclysm is occurring here? The artist says the piece is inspired by the urban myth that seagulls, who are known to scavenge indiscriminately for food, will explode in midair if they eat Alka-Seltzer—which several of these have done. And yet, Foster’s Flock is more alluring than alarming. Made from vinyl siding left over from a construction site, gutter metal, screws, and other simple, repurposed materials, the birds draw our attention to the natural world and to the potential of recycling. As gluttonous, self-destructive creatures, the seagulls reference the effects of unchecked, mass consumption; as a whimsical, provocative work made from found materials, What the Flock?! illustrates the potential of art to illuminate how we might better use our increasingly shared resources.

 

Exhibited works

Felipe Barbosa (Brazilian)
Pill Ball, 2008
Leather soccer balls
Courtesy of Cosmocopa Arte Contemporanea, Rio de Janeiro

Wouter Deruyetter (Belgian)
Cowboy Code Portfolio, 2010
Silver gelatin prints

Johnston Foster (American)
What the Flock?!, 2011
Mixed media site-specific installation

Luis Gispert (American)
from the Decepción series, suite of six Chromogenic prints:
Gucci Gloom, 2011
Fendi Caprise, 2011
Sprouse Grouse, 2011
Chanel Jetty, 2011
Burberry BMW, 2011
Coach Mark VIII, 2011

Ross Gordon (Louisville-based),
Chagras of Ecuador, suite of five Chromogenic prints:
Rodeo, Alao, Ecuador, 2009
Chagras on wall, 2009
Three Chagras, 2009
Spurs, 2009
Chagra, 2009

Dinh Q Le (Vietnamese-American)
Two Untitled works from the Tapestry series, 2006
Chromogenic prints and linen tape

Gonzalo Lebrija (Mexican)
Asterión, 2006
Single channel DVD, running time 4:20

Pepe Lopez (Venezuelan)
Guapisimas, 2004
Acrylic and mixed media on forty seven guapas and manares baskets

Marc Quinn (British)
Portraits of Landscapes, 2007
Pigment on Somerset velvet enhanced paper

Larry Shank (American)
Untitled (Rabbits and Bread), 2000
Bronze

Satyr, 2005
Bronze

Ye Hongxing (Chinese)
from the Fusion series, mixed media on canvas:
Fu Sheng Yan Ying No. 2, 2006
Fu Sheng Yan Ying No. 3, 2006