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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

Questioning Consumer Culture

'Aesthetic Afterlife' at the Haggerty

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As part of a museum-wide exhibition series focusing on consumerism, the Haggerty Museum of Art presents “Aesthetic Afterlife,” featuring Wisconsin artists William Andersen, Jason Ramey, Heather McCalla, Niki Johnson, Hongtao Zhou and Yevgeniya Kaganovich. Incorporating discarded or donated objects, the works raise numerous questions about globalization, the environmental impact of consumerism and the psychology of materialism.

Andersen’s Mi er wa qi (Milwaukee in pinyin Chinese) converts Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation hand tools into artworks through elaborate blue-and-white chinoiserie over-painting. This painting style—drawn from ancient Chinese pottery and appropriated by Europeans in the 17th century—points to the long history of cultural fusion, the United States’ ever-growing reliance on China for cheap labor, and the tension between the triumphs and tragedies of globalization.

Zhou’s Reconstituted interrogates the impact of humanity’s “material freedom” on the natural world. Using pieces of broken chairs and belts, the artist created a massive bull’s head. The animal reference suggests the capitalist symbol of a “bull market” as well as the often-unethical treatment of commercial livestock. The fact that the work is also a costume piece hints at the performative aspects of “bullheaded” greed.

Kaganovich’s grow—part of a larger series of collaborative works throughout Milwaukee—transforms plastic shopping bags into diversely textured plant forms. The installation grows over time as patrons donate additional bags and Kaganovich and community volunteers extend the “invasive species” throughout the space. Ironic and brilliantly executed, the work interrogates the environmental impact of manufacturing, while simultaneously providing an aesthetic “redemption” for these non-biodegradable materials.

“Aesthetic Afterlife” will be displayed through May 18, at 530 N. 13th St.