Points of Reference: Irrational Exuberance: Artists’ shops

A partial selection of artist’s shops and shop-like installations informing Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), on view at Sight School through June 12:

Claes Oldenberg’s The Store, (Ray Gun Mfg. Co.), 1961
107 East 2nd Street, New York, NY, USA

Claes Oldenburg, The Store. 1961. Letterpress, composition: 26 5/8 x 20 7/16" (67.6 x 51.9 cm); sheet: 28 3/8 x 22 1/8" (72.1 x 56.2 cm). Mary Ellen Meehan Fund. © 2010 Claes Oldenburg. Source:

Read MOMA’s gallery label text for this poster.

Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961), photographed by Robert R. McElroy. Source:

In 1961, Claes Oldenburg began working on The Store, a storefront on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he made and sold his work. He presented himself as both a shopkeeper and a manufacturer, cramming the store windows with brightly painted objects he made by layering plaster-soaked muslin over chicken-wire armatures. These items, including Bride Mannikin, constitute non-wearable clothes and inedible food displayed for sale. Putting into question each object’s function, Oldenburg sought to blur the line between sculpture and commodity, viewer and consumer, and art and life. (

Michael Lüthy wrote about Claes Oldenburg’s “The Store” for Shopping. A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, ed. by Max Hollein and Christoph Grunenberg (a catalog for an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2002, p. 148-53). You can read an excerpt on Lüthy’s archive.

You can see a large selection of sculptures from Oldenburg’s “The Store,” including “Bride Mannikin,” in Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles thru July 12.

Various artists, The American Supermarket, organized by Ben Birillo and Paul Bianchini, 1964
Bianchini Gallery, Upper East Side, New York, NY, USA

American Supermarket Exhibition 1964. From Life magazine. Source:

Roy Lichtenstein, Turkey Shopping Bag, 1964, Screenprint on shopping bag with handles, Composition: 7 1/2 x 9" (19.1 x 22.8cm); sheet (irreg.): 19 5/16 x 16 15/16" (49 x 43cm). Publisher: Bianchini Gallery, New York. Printer: Ben Birillo, New York. Edition: approx. 125. Source:, collection section

A collaboration between the great names of Pop Art including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Artschwager, Robert Watts, Tom Wesselman and others, the exhibition is an evocation of an ordinary 1964 supermarket – complete with meat, cheese and fruit counters, neon signs and jaunty background musak. In the installation’s “aisles,” real foods are mixed together with iconic Pop works such as Warhol’s stacks of Campbell’s Soup cans and Robert Watts’ alluring chrome fruits and multi-colored wax eggs.
…With its Pop Art proprietors The American Supermarket celebrated the spectacle of consumption with a happening-like event in which shopping was elevated to an art form and serious art collectors were turned into ordinary supermarket customers. (from a press release from The Andy Warhol Museum, May 20, 2003

More info on The American Supermarket can be found in Shopping. A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, ed. by Max Hollein and Christoph Grunenberg (a catalog for an exhibition at Tate Liverpool, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2002

George Brecht and Robert Filliou, La Cédille qui Sourit (The Cedilla that Smiles), 1965-8
Villefranche-sur-Mer, in the south of France

George Brecht with Robert Filliou at La Cédille qui sourit, rue des May, Villefranche-sur-mer, 1965-1968. Source: Flux Fest: Fluxus & Happening

The shop was intended to explore ideas about the ‘obtuse relationship(s) to the institution of language'[35] but instead ushered in what he described cheerfully as “accelerated creative inactivity” (Brecht’s obit from the Independent, as quoted in

Allan Ruppersburg’s Al’s Cafe, 1969
1913 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Allen Ruppersberg, Al's Cafe, 1969-1995. Source:

Allan Ruppersburg, Als Cafe, 1969 Installation, 1913 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles, CA. Source: Air de Paris website, Artists, Allan Ruppersberg, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf page

The Cafe was intended to be a limited-run restaurant, staged once a week—Thursday nights from eight to eleven—in a rented location in downtown Los Angeles. It was to function socially as a meeting place for friends, members of the art world, and anyone else who wanted to drop by. In direct opposition to what one might have expected from a young [Minimalist/Post-Minimalist/Conceptualist] artist at the time, the decor was familiar to the point of strangeness: hyperfamiliar, you might say today…. It was a place where any American would have felt at home. It was exorbitantly familiar….

…[Ruppersberg] was determined to emphasize culture at every turn, to demonstrate that we are wholly defined by it in every act of … of representation of any kind…. In my memory, it was Al who reminded our troubled generation that simple, normal, everyday rituals of human commerce (horrors!) contained a significant complement of decency and joy that needed to be recognized and appreciated—not in spite of, but along with whatever else might have been wrong with the world in those especially uneasy years. (Allan McCollum, “Allen Ruppersberg: What One Loves About Life Are the Things That Fade,” from “Al Ruppersberg: Books, Inc.,” Frac Limousin, France, 2001)

Gordon Matta-Clark, Food, 1971
Corner of Prince and Wooster Streets, New York, NY, USA

Promotion for Food, a restaurant by Gordon Matta-Clark and other artists. Photo: Richard Landry, alteration by Gordon Matta-Clark. Source: New York Times.

Artists were also invited weekly to serve as guest chefs, and the whole dinner was considered a performance art piece. One of the most fabled, costing $4, was Matta-Clark’s “bone dinner,” which featured oxtail soup, roasted marrow bones and frogs’ legs, among other bony entrees. After the plates were cleared, the bones were scrubbed and strung together so that diners could wear their leftovers home. (Randy Kennedy, “When Meals Played the Muse,” New York Times, Feb. 21, 2007.)

Martha Rosler’s Garage Sale, 1973 / London Garage Sale, 2005
University of California at San Diego art gallery, CA, USA / Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK

Martha Rosler, Garage Sale, California, 1973, image courtesy of the artist. Source:

Martha Rosler, Garage Sale, 1973, Art Gallery of the University of California, San Diego. Source:

In 2005 Martha Rosler restaged her piece from 1973, Garage Sale. The exhibition offered a piece of institutional critique on object festishism, the act of buying and selling, and the notion of an ‘art exhibition’. However, Rosler was now a known entity, an institution in herself. Is all critique eventually undone, institutionalised, aestheticised? Or did the restaging prove the persistent validity of such a project? Art into Society: Society into Art (ICA, 1974) brought together the greatest agent provocateurs of their day – Hans Haacke, Gustav Metzger and Joseph Beuys. Are such attempts at undoing the binary oppositions suggested by that exhibition title still pertinent? Was truly anti-institutional exhibition-making simply channelled into live art and happenings, events and music, leaving the exhibition the place for historicised critique? Did we stop chewing the fat of Beuys’s critique when we started preserving it? (London ICA’s website, description for event: Institutional Critique held on October 29, 2008.)

Haim Steinbach’s installations and sculptures, 1970s-current

Haim Steinbach, six feet under, 2004, plastic laminated wood shelf; plasitc frog; plastic feet; ceramic pig; wooden clogs 38 x 69 1/4 x 19 “ (96.5 x 175.9 x 48.3 cm). Source:

Haim Steinbach (born Rehovot, Israel, 1944 and living in New York City since 1957) has been an influential exponent of art based on already existing objects. Since the late 1970’s Steinbach’s art has been focused on the selection and arrangement of objects, above all everyday objects. In order to enhance their interplay and resonance, he has been conceiving structures and framing devices for them.

Steinbach presents objects ranging from the natural to the ordinary, the artistic to the ethnographic, giving form to art works that underscore their identities and inherent meanings. Exploring the psychological, aesthetic, cultural and ritualistic aspects of objects as well as their context, Steinbach has radically redefined the status of the object in art. (from the artist’s website)

Keith Haring’s Pop Shop, 1986-2005
292 Lafayette Street, New York, NY, USA

A close-up shot of the awning and signage of the recently closed Pop Shop, posted October 9, 2005, on Global Graphica, blog of Visual Culture. Ivan Corsa Photo.

Installation view of the re-creation of Keith Haring’s Pop Shop (1986), featuring original Pop Shop ephemera, "Pop Life: Art in a Material World," Tate Modern, 2009. © Tate Photography. Source:

Haring’s Pop Shop was recreated for Pop Life: Art in a Material World at the Tate Modern. You can read more about it in the catalog (purchase it from or find it in the nearest library collection on, or visit the exhibition as it travels to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa from June 11–September 19, 2010.

The Keith Haring Foundation maintains an online Pop Shop.

Cady Noland’s installations and sculptures, late 1980s-1990s

Cady Noland, Trashed Mailbox, 1989. Source:

Cady Noland American, born 1956 This piece doesn't have a title yet 1989 Beer cans, scaffolding, cloth and vinyl flags, hand tools. Source: Mattress Factory

Noland, not Barney, Hirst, or Gonzalez-Torres, is the crucial link between late-1980s commodity art and much that has followed; she is the portal through which enormous amounts of appropriational, political, and compositional notions pass. So mercurial, fierce, and originally poetic is she that I think of her as our Rimbaud. (Jerry Saltz, “Invasion of the Sculpture Snatchers,” Village Voice, May 9, 2006)

Tracy Emin’s and Sarah Lucas’ The Shop, 1993
103 Bethnal Green Road, London, UK

Sarah Lucas (L) and Tracey Emin (R) at The Shop. Bethnel Green, London, UK. Photo by Carl Freedman. Source:

Read Tracy Emin’s reflections on The Shop in the Times (“Tracey Emin on her previous life as a shop girl,” Sept. 26, 2009). Or, listen to a podcast of the artist’s talk at Tate (Tate Events podcast, 08-12-2009 Tracey Emin discusses ‘The Shop,’ released 4/6/10, 1:18:03.)

Harrell Fletcher, Jon Rubin, and neighborhood participants, Gallery HERE, 1993-1995
College Avenue, Oakland, CA, USA

Jon Rubin, Harrell Fletcher and neighborhood collaborators, Gallery Here, garage sale, 1993-1995,

Jon Rubin, Harrell Fletcher and neighborhood collaborators, Gallery Here, garage sale, 1993-1995,

Jon Rubin and I started Gallery Here while we were still in Grad School at CCAC. We borrowed a vacant retail building that was in the neighborhood where we lived. For a year and a half until the building was rented we put on a series of shows about people and places in the neighborhood. … For another show we had people’s garage sales in the gallery and put story tags on all of the stuff that was for sale. (Harrell Fletcher’s website: projects: Gallery Here.)

Cary Leibowitz (aka Candyass) Carnival installations, early 1990s

Cary Leibowitz, Art Forum Berlin, 2007. A re-creation of Leibowitz’ iconic Candy Ass Carnival installations from the early 1990s. Source: Alexander Gray Associates

Cary Leibowitz’s Tondo Schmondo Fran Drescher Fan Club and Sad Rainbow, Happy Rainbow at Alexander Gray Associates. Source:

Cary Leibowitz mixes Jewish identity, kitsch, modernist critique, Queer politics, and design culture into dryly witty multiples and paintings. (Contemporary Jewish Museum)

Watch a short video on the installation at Art Forum Berlin on Vernissage TV. Or watch Cary Leibowitz’ artist’s talk in conversation with Glen Helfand at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in San Francisco on March 28, 2010.

Takashi Murakami’s Louis Vuitton shop in ©MURAKAMI, 2008
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Murakami at MOCA (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times) A fully operational, fully staffed Louis Vuitton boutique, with merchandise designed by Murakami, sits above the show. Source:, Arts & Culture, Murakami at Moca

Watch extensive videos of Murakami discussing his works in the ©MURAKAMI exhibition at MOCA.

One gets spat out of the Murakami’s wonderland not through a volcano, but through a fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique. And if the Vuitton bag exceeds the budget the true Murakami experience can yet be attained through a shopping splurge in the Murakami-equipped museum store. Without a clear boundary between them, exhibition visit and shopping blend together to a borderless state of full satisfaction or, as Murakami likes to call it an ‘ongoing study in meaninglessness.’ (from Anna Gritz’ review of the exhibition in Frieze Magazine.

Art & Development

The Art of Participation, one year later

A year ago, I wrote a review of The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now at the SFMOMA. Publishing can be capricious; my review was never published… until now.


There is a lot to see, touch, hear, speak into, wear and click in The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now, a large-scale overview of participatory art. The museum is pervaded with a friendly, relaxed tone. Instead of compelling visitors to be on their best behavior, the audience is encouraged (and instructed on nearly every wall label) to participate as much as possible. The show is contingent upon visitors’ participation, which paradoxically, may be hampered by years of the museum’s Do Not Touch conditioning.


A historical section — mostly artifacts and documentation — make up about a third of the exhibition. It’s here where visitors encounter John Cage’s 4’33” (1952), the infamous note-less composition of ambient sounds, and the curatorial cornerstone of the exhibition. Cage’s concept of indeterminacy, or openness to chance or change, can be seen throughout, to varying results.

The historical section is a good introduction to participation-based art, starting with a display case of Fluxus books and ephemera. Videos by Abramović/Ulay, Yoko Ono and VALLIE EXPORT form a crash course in in-your-face Feminist performance art. Also included is the seminal media work, Kit Galloway’s and Sherrie Rabinowitz’ Hole in Space (1980); the delight of participants who encountered the unannounced bicoastal videoconference is quite infectious.

Hands-on pieces by Lygia Clark facilitate sensory interactions. The tender yet terrifyingly surgical Dialogo Oculos (1968/2008), for example, is a pair of modified goggles set face-to-face, mediated by a pair of small mirrors. It’s a goofy invention that piques an irrepressible curiosity.

Not all objects can inspire wonder and interaction so readily, as Clark’s Rede de elástico (Elastic Net) demonstrates. First, viewers are instructed to tie an oversized rubber band to expand a large net-in-progress. How and why one should participate is self-evident: small contributions create a tangible result. Second, viewers are invited to interact with other people using the net. This is a more demanding request and the payoff is uncertain.


Rede de elástico suggests two forms of participation. The lower level of participation—specific instructions for fleeting interactions—is often more comfortable, and draws a wider pool of participants. But prolonged, indeterminate engagement—such as those requiring interactions with strangers—requires investment and risk, so participants self-select. In return, these artworks are more generous with shared authorship and the potential for surprise and transformative experiences.

In a wall text, curator Rudolf Frieling cites the democratic potential of “the internet mindset.” Yet the problems of online communities—anonymity, unaccountability, unleashed base impulses—undermine many works, on- and offline, in The Art of Participation. Indeterminacy allows for connection, at the risk of vulnerability to abuse or disregard.


Many projects in The Art of Participation fall into the easy, popular category: artists creating interfaces for soliciting and aggregating single contributions (a sound, image or action). For example, c a l c and Johannes Gees’ communimage (1999–present) is a web-based mosaic made of user-uploaded images. The contributions are predictably low-brow: sexy profile pics, porn and opportunistic URLs. The almost decade-long mosaic-in-progress may be a historic Web 2.0 experiment, but there’s little at stake and the aggregation seems inconsequential. As does Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Mike Bennett’s Bumplist (2003), an email list with a finite amount of subscribers, so new subscribers “bump” old subscribers off of the list. In a medium rife with trivial time-sucks, what’s one more exercise in futility?

Beauty, unfortunately, does not inoculate a project from vulgarity. For example, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Microphones (2008) consists of 20 vintage microphones arranged in a circle at the center of a large, darkened room, while hidden equipment records and plays back participants’ vocal input at random. Theatrical lighting lends a magical aura, but it’s not enough to deter viewers from contributing comments like “Yo, I like pussy” and “Mark’s not going to make it because he said the parking’s too hard.” Lozano-Hemmer shared the authorship of the content with viewers, but generosity does not always beget gratitude.

In essence, these high-tech installations function like community bulletin boards detached from their civic use-values. When participants have little to gain and nothing to lose, is it any surprise that their off-the-cuff contributions may be less considered, and more reflective of their social or anti-social tendencies or attitudes about contemporary art?

In some cases, participation with these bulletin boards seems too depersonalized, as in the case of HUQQUH (2008) by Ant Farm. The venerable new media and architecture innovators created a media time capsule. Visitors can download media from their digital devices to a customized van. But I raised my expectations after viewing Elizabeth Federici and Laura Harrison’s Ant Farm: Early Underground Adventures with Space, Land and Time (2008), which shows Ant Farm touring counter-culture landmarks and conducting live video feeds in the 1970s. I’m usually immune to the hippie brand of romantic transcendentalism, but I was moved by the urgency and on-the-ground exchange of their earlier media van. In comparison, HUQQUH seems like an inert repository for documenting media consumption. I can’t imagine that, after driving an art-car through a pyramid of burning TVs (in Media Burn, 1975), Ant Farm had Family Guy vodpods in mind. To be fair, this opinion may be premature—HUQQUH is a time capsule, so the work may not be ‘complete’ for another three decades.


On the other end of the participation spectrum are works that demand prolonged, indeterminate engagement among self-selected participants. These works can be generous while they also complicate questions of authorship and responsibility.

1st Public White Cube (2001/2008), by Blank & Jeron and Gerrit Gohlke, is a gallery-within-the-museum. The artists commissioned other artists (the Los Angeles-based collective 10lb Ape) to create an installation (what looks like yet another spectacular found junk installation/shed by psychedelic youth). The right to alter 10lb Ape’s installation was sold to the highest bidder on EBay—this week, local artist Tim Roseborough, who simply pinned unremarkable photographs of the installation to the wall. Blank & Jeron and Gohlke are probably making a point about commodification, but like the installation, the conceptual meta-project seems in need of editing.

If that project is an experiment in value, Jochen Gerz’ The Gift (2000/2008) is an expression of generosity, and a more elegant and resolved artwork. Gerz’ project involves arranging young photographers to shoot thousands of black and white portraits of museum visitors. Selected portraits will be installed in the highly trafficked second floor landing, and printed in the S.F. Examiner. At the close of the exhibition, the artist will re-distribute the portraits as original works on permanent loan from SFMOMA. Gerz turns museum visitors into subjects (who form a diverse counterpoint to Harrell Fletcher’s and Jon Rubin’s Pictures Collected from Museum Visitors’ Wallets, 1998, humorously disarming studio portraits of American archetypes: the stern father, the guileless graduate) as well as collecting recipients. By the looks of the long line, visitors were quite enthusiastic about sacrificing privacy for a little fame and free stuff. What they might not know (spoiler alert!) is that there’s no guarantee that participants will receive their own portraits. Recipients will have to exchange their photos on their own—the photographs facilitate new social interactions. Gerz’ project enacts author Lewis Hyde’s idea: the work of art is like a gift, which accrues value with circulation.

While there are numerous internet-based projects in the show, the one with the broadest potential is Dan Phiffer and Muson Zer Aviv’s, “a browser plug-in for annotating, editing, and shifting the web.” The plug-in allows users to post notes, reconfigure text, swap images and edit code on any existing web page—personal, institutional, or corporate. It’s liberating and exciting—like leaving secret messages in public—with a lot of Web 3.0 potential because it adds a new layer, not just a new site, to the entire Web. ShiftSpace exemplifies how the best participatory art helps users re-think paradigms.


Erwin Wurm illustrates his challenge to the static-gallery paradigm by turning the gallery into a public theater where viewers can become actors. On the stage-like plinth, anyone can enact One Minute Sculptures by following the casually handwritten instructions and sketches and using the props. The One Minute Sculptures are essentially childlike ways of exploring the laws of the physical world, constituting a form of art-as-play. Two elements seem to shape participation: youth and critical mass. On a slow weekday, the plinth seemed like an intimidating stage—visitors shied away. On a busy weekend, the threshold’s visibility was in inverse proportion to visitors’ ages. Children readily became actors as parents became audience members. Young adults also took up the sculptures—demonstrating either youthful bravado or genuine comfort with hands-on art.

Least visible in the galleries and most radical in form, Janet Cardiff’s handheld camera-guided walking tour, The Telephone Call (2001), offers individuals a poetic one-on-one experience. Participants borrow a consumer-grade video camera and headset loaded with a pre-recorded video, in which Cardiff directs participants on tour of SFMOMA. Footage of the galleries and hidden spaces are spliced with narratives, memories, and other scenes, lending a peculiar sense of spacial and temporal dislocation. Cardiff manages to touch upon themes of subjectivity, eavesdropping and surveillance, while also making participants feel secure, as viewers are hidden in plain site in the guise of tourist. The result is a pleasurable, private experience that leaves a lingering sense of heightened perception.

In 1969, Allan Kaprow orchestrated a live, closed circuit broadcast at four sites in Boston, in a happening called Hello. Each location was equipped with cameras and monitors. Participants excitedly called out to one another:
“Hello! I see you! Can you see me?”
“Hello, Jim.”
“Pike — where are you? I can’t see you!”

The participants delighted in identifying others in the monitors. Seeing, however, was accompanied by a secondary concern—being seen, acknowledged, broadcast: I see you! Can you see me? By making participatory art, artists are seeing and acknowledging the viewers by providing a broadcast platform—a TV, a stage, a microphone, a gallery, the Web itself. But a broadcast platform only amplifies a voice. The output is only as meaningful as the input.

The Art of Participation includes work by: Abramović/Ulay; Vito Acconci; Francis Alÿs; Chip Lord, Curtis Schreier and Bruce Tomb (former members of Ant Farm); John Baldessari; Joseph Beuys; Blank & Jeron and Gerrit Gohlke; George Brecht; Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Mike Bennett; John Cage; c a l c and Johannes Gees; Janet Cardiff; Lygia Clark; Minerva Cuevas; Maria Eichhorn; VALIE EXPORT; Harrell Fletcher and Jon Rubin; Fluxus Collective; Jochen Gerz; Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz; Matthias Gommel; Felix Gonzalez-Torres; Dan Graham; Hans Haacke; Lynn Hershman Leeson; Nam June Paik; Allan Kaprow; Henning Lohner and Van Carlson; Rafael Lozano-Hemmer; Tom Marioni; MTAA (M.River and T.Whid Art Associates); Antoni Muntadas; Yoko Ono; Dan Phiffer and Mushon Zer-Aviv; Raqs Media Collective; Robert Rauschenberg; Warren Sack; Mieko Shiomi; Torolab; Wolf Vostell; Andy Warhol; Stephen Willats; and Erwin Wurm.