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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Haggerty Museum’s ‘Jump Cut Pop’ Continues Cultural Critique

Art Review

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With the exception of comparatively younger video artist Cliff Evans, the artists of "Jump Cut Pop" (through Oct. 4) at the Haggerty Museum of Art paved the way for younger image-makers to appropriate and recontextualize the iconography of celebrity, consumerism and Western hegemony, albeit not as conspicuously as Warhol or Lichtenstein. All six artists, whose works on view range from the mid-1960s to more contemporary pieces, are part of a continuum of cultural critique turning popular imagery against itself, though some artists' hands weigh heavier than others.

The sole video work in the show is 15 Reasons to Go to War, made by Evans in collaboration with the now-dissolved TerrorFarmer Collective. A collage of images culled from the Internet, 15 Reasons includes amateur pornography, bovine flatulence and specters of war. Like Frankenstein's monster of disparate parts, 15 Reasons reflects a linear, panoramic vision of the American landscape, one consumed by lust for fuel and flesh, its prurience defended by nymphets with rocket packs and soldiers sans trousers. When truth is so easily Photoshopped away, 15 Reasons leads the viewer to question the veracity of images in the digital age, and the Web's specious role as America's postcard to the world.

Two series of photomontages by Martha Rosler, both titled House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, conflate the realities of war with the fantasies of ladies' magazines. Juxtaposing appropriated photojournalism with glossy domestic environments, Rosler cut and pasted civilian casualties into the spotless kitchens and well-decorated living rooms of 1960s America.

Rosler's earlier edition of House Beautiful from 1967-1972 coincided with the My Lai massacre, when war came home to Americans through their televisions. In the recent installment of House Beautiful (2004-), Rosler uses the same motif to invoke the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Invasion, from 2008, features a parade of male models in couture black suits. The chiseled G-men emerge unscathed from fiery wreckage, leaving destruction in their wake.

Large in scale, their colors bright and bold, many of the works in "Jump Cut Pop" can be read at a distance. The prints of Scottish-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi, however, require closer inspection. Paolozzi was a seminal figure in the British Pop Art movement in the 1960s, and the works assembled here comprise two of his print portfolios. The colorful General Dynamic F.U.N. (for which J.G. Ballard wrote the introduction) combines celebrities and advertising icons from the 1960s with collage-like stream-of-consciousness text, a nod to Paolozzi's interest in surrealism.

Paolozzi's role in the development of Pop Art is undeniable, and it is difficult to view his, and to an extent Rosler's, '60s work without a critical glance at our current image-making culture. The popularity of AMC's "Mad Men," Hollywood's compulsion to remake and update classic films and, politically, the re-making of mistakes from Vietnam in the present "War on Terror" attest that America is hopelessly nostalgic. And if 15 Reasons to Go to War, as Australian-born Evans states, "is a survey of representations and (mis) perceptions of American culture by virtue of its uses of the Internet as a database for image collection," we're in danger of cultural bankruptcy. Like the suited men in Rosler's Invasion, it is the artists who must blaze a way out.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts' 'Decorative Directive'

By Peggy Sue Dunigan

An embroidered white tablecloth, a strand of pearls, a diagram from Emily Post's etiquette primer: These objects familiar to past generations create the dynamics for a new exhibit at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts (WPCA), titled "Regan Golden & Jennifer Harris: Decorative Directive" (through Aug. 22).

The two up-and-coming artists reference minimalist art created with industrial materials to reflect on tried-and-true social conventions. In the WPCA's slightly reconfigured gallery, which may represent a sparse home environment, oversized installations, small-scale drawings and sculptures allow the viewer to contemplate lost cultural formalities.

Regan Golden lines the walls with blown-up installations interpreting a strand of pearls. Just as Claes Oldenburg demonstrated the power of scale when he enlarged domestic and common objects to enormous proportions, Golden captures a similar concept envisioned with a womanly twist that honors her family's "perfect grandmother" while questioning what defines modern femininity.

Her piece titled All I Wish for You, which Golden cuts freehand with an X-Acto knife from foggy gray industrial paper, resembles a tangled string of round, baroque pearls, loosely held in three interconnected bundles that hang on the wall. Pearls, an iconic symbol of a proper upbringing, impeccable fashion and bridal wear, still resonate with women in 2009, as evidenced by the number of these necklaces layered over modern clothing. By contrasting this feminine mystique with elements of decay, represented by the fragile and frayed paper, Golden questions these customs, the meaning inherent in the gems and the beauty they portray, on and off a woman.

Golden revisits this theme in the second gallery with I Will Make You Clean and Light, an installation cut from plastic sheeting and paper. The piece includes sand from Cape Cod shorelines that's piped on the floor with a pastry bag. The translucent web, another piece that is hand-cut and labor-intensive, may allude to the nets used to gather the oysters from which pearls come, while the sand envisions the making of the pearl. The oyster builds this age-old gem as a defense against irritants, occasionally caused by sand, so ultimately the pearl acts as protection for the mollusk. In this case, the pearl stands as a metaphor for being a natural protector and an ornament.

Harris' life-size Cord Bouquet showcases flowers looped from brightly colored electrical cords secured with sterling silver centers, which contrasts masculinity and femininity, the organic with the industrial. Her Etiquette Tray, a vintage plastic meal tray bordered with illustrations of proper table settings, ponders which cultural manners are valued and which are tossed away. Perhaps Harris is asking if society even cares what might be saved or lost.

In addition to the three-dimensional artwork, drawings featuring Emily Post witticisms or poignant lines from World War II love letters, memories from Golden's grandparents, instill this contemporary exhibition with warmth that invites the outsider into these women's creative environments. In this captivating, imaginative vision from the feminine viewpoint of how society embellishes the world with decorative and social conventions, Golden and Harris juxtapose old and new domesticity to confront the observer with how the context of home and polite formalities validate daily life.