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, Research

Pop teeth

Artists are consumers themselves. They have their own elaborately constructed systems of valuation as subsets within larger realms of consumer value. No art is absolutely pure, or created in a vacuum outside those larger realms. (Gibson Cuyler on Libby Black’s Be Here Now, Art Practical 13, April 22, 2010)

Strange that this must be re-stated, but it’s often the case that criticism and radical opposition are considered equivocal. (Johanna Drucker argues that critics and academics best accept our complicity and move on to responding to the actual art in Sweet Dreams.)

To broach capitialism or material culture in one’s artwork is to risk easy, politically loaded readings. The work might be interpreted sympathetically as anti-capitalist commentaries, leftist/Marxist/politically correct indictments of globalization/consumerism/mass media/environmental destruction. On the opposite extreme lie allegations of consumerist gluttony, environmental sinfulness, aesthetic hedonism, artistic slumming, or naked ambition. Tsk-tsk! should art, which could signify genius and the sublime, muddy itself in base, money-grubbing popular culture.

I’m interested in work that doesn’t deny the facts of the world: capitalism, labor, production, material culture, popular culture. I think artists have the right to beg/borrow/steal from these themes without having being pigeonholed into positions of critical subversion or immoral kowtowing. It’s possible I’m a waffler. That I’m exploiting ambiguity by not taking a stand. If you were really cynical, you could argue that the only crime worse than politically incorrectness in contemporary art is being boring and didactic.

I’m looking at the catalog for Pop Life, the recent survey of Pop Art after 1970 at the Tate Modern. As I’m developing Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), a shop-like exhibition of work on paper, sculpture and installation coming up at Sight School (opens May 14), it’s neat to think about Keith Haring’s Pop Shop and Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin’s The Shop. I also listened to the Tate’s podcast of Emin talking about The Shop, wherein Emin clicked for me: her personality, class, background, enmeshed in the world, results in work that is likewise enmeshed in the world and her life.

Art & Development, Travelogue


Albert Docks, Liverpool

Albert Docks, Liverpool

An all-day art trip to Liverpool today, guided by the indefatigable Breathe Residency co-ordinator, David Hancock. I’ve got a ridiculously high tolerance for gallery-going, but even I was starting to wane compared to David’s vim. Yesterday’s snow had melted and frozen again, leaving patches of slippy ice on the footpath (slippery ice on the sidewalk), but the rain stayed away, so we covered a lot of ground.

In America, it’s easy to be unaware that Liverpool was the 2008 European Capital of Culture, and now I can see how the city deserved the recognition. It’s a compact city compared to Manchester, and I found it quite scenic. Both cities are historic, but Manchester’s not especially picturesque, and while its recent development has lent a sense of energy, it’s sort of a tony, American, consumerist vibe. In contrast, my sense was that Liverpool culture was a little underground, more woven in with historic architecture, and that there’s quality arts and culture site here.

FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology)
An institute for contemporary art dedicated to new/digital media.
I was intrigued by the website, and the actual place lived up to my expectations. It’s a cool building on a quiet little street lined with a few pubs and architecture/design studios. The galleries are nice, and the installations are meticulous. There were three shows on — one primarily found-sound installation, one essentially an art music video featuring beautiful video of industrial sites, and one kinetic/live data feed type of thing. All were high quality, impressive installations. I’m looking forward to going back to see more great shows, and maybe knocking back a cocktail before visiting their cinema.

Random observation: These UK ICAs sure know how to incorporate both cafes and cool lounge/bars into their buildings nicely. Maybe because the national museums are free, but it seems more common to find galleries to be cool, well-utilized hang-out spaces over here.

Open Eye Gallery
A non-profit gallery focusing on photography. A nice gallery of modest scale, featuring a great show by David Goldblatt. The exhibition pairs photographs shot in South Africa, contrasting framed, grainy, apartheid-era B/Ws with large, unframed, contemporary color prints. The premise could easily be problematic, but the quality of the work, and the way the show is organized, made a delicate, artful statement.

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. My American sensibilities find these century-and-a-half-old neo-classical buildings fantastically impressive; I wonder if they become run-of-the-mill for Britons?

Walker Art Gallery
Yet another free, civic-run general art gallery. The collection is fine, inclusive of decorative arts and old paintings.

A typical table setting before (left) and after (right) the start of the Industrial Revolution. Walker Art Gallery.

A typical table setting before (left) and after (right) the start of the Industrial Revolution. Walker Art Gallery.

I’m finding the Industrial Revolution-era glass and ceramics to be really interesting, since it speaks to Chinoserie and the rise of the middle class. You really get a sense of how quickly the Industrial Revolution changed things. Plus, so many famous factories were here — Wedgewood, producers of delftware, pressed glass, etc. I’m better appreciating the over-the-top sensibilities of commemorative bowls, teapots, mugs and trays.

A beautiful pair of tongs for sugar lumps.

A beautiful pair of tongs for sugar lumps.

One contemporary project took my breath away: Jyll Bradley‘s The Botanic Garden, a series of photographic lightboxes shot around the cities’ botanical sites, including labs, libraries, and greenhouses. I love the stunningly dissonant photograph of two night guards. In the background, foliage and the domed conservatory walls loom grandly, but the guards’ station, littered with oversized containers of Nescafe and milk, couldn’t be more mundane. The photos were amazing: densely detailed, rich colors, and printed or mounted on some sort of matte substrate whose tooth reminded me of quality paper.

The Bluecoat
This fantastic ICA wasn’t on my radar before, but it sure is now. It’s a really beautiful, contemporary venue set in an old brick school with a recently-expanded galleries, along with in-house studios for artists and creatives. Brilliant.

Next Up: Liverpool Art Now is a regional survey that comes to some predictable conclusions, like jokey work by young artists, naughty messages on nice hankies, moody paintings, and poppy wall-drawing, but there are some nice turns as well. Here’s what sparked my imagination:
Stephen Forge‘s routed melamine pieces tickle the divide between formal and mimetic.
David Jacques’ fictional, documentary-style video and embroidered and painted banners.
James Loftus’ Tesseract Panopticon Camera, a six-sided pinhole camera that made six-part, cross-like prints.
Imogen Stidworthy’s Topography of a Voice, intaglio prints of 3D audio renderings.
Alison Jones’ Portrait of the Artist by Proxy is an intriguing audio track of non-artists having a hard time describing a face. The more speakers stumbled over their words, the more it seemed to validate artists’ visual skills.

Liverpool Art Now" catalogue

Spread from the Next Up: Liverpool Art Now\

Tate Liverpool
Two exhibits. First, works by William Blake — a really nice treat. And, a DLA Piper series showcasing selections of 20th century figurative and abstract art from the collections. It sounded boooorrrrring, like a bunch of surrealist paintings, cubist paintings and AbEx at any old museum of modern art, but it wasn’t too bad. There were even a few surprises from Op Art and Arte Povera.

Julio Le Parc's Continuous Mobile, Continuous Painting

Julio Le Parc's Continuous Mobile, Continuous Painting

This Julio Le Parc was somehow resonant — it’s an obvious result from the era when artists did anything and everything to get off the wall, but I still like it.

Peter Halley’s The Place struck me in a way Christopher Wool‘s work first impressed me — as a painting that follows in a tradition, but slightly off, tongue-in-cheek. At first glance it looks like your basic grid abstraction, with some wonky, sort of tacky textures, but the neon colors suggest pop culture, and the form itself is a bit like a computer chip. This undermines the purism of abstraction, which doesn’t do much for me in theory, but is pretty entertaining in practice.

There were many strong contributions from contemporary women artists too:
Sarah LucasBeyond the Pleasure Principle junk installation on sex and death included raw light bulbs and a coffin of corrugated cardboard.
Mona Hatoum‘s Home is an installation where metal kitchen gadgets buzzed with a live current (or so the illusion suggested).
Melanie Smith’s Six Steps to Abstraction was a collection of Bridget-Riley-esque paintings stacked abjectedly against the wall, with hanging piles of colored string, and videos shot in Mexico, including one where a bossy customer tries to get a street vendor to re-upholster a cushion in modern art way. The concept seems like something you’d see in any art school grad show, but Smith pulled off a cool, museum-worthy iteration.

Liverpool John Moores University
Finally, I attended a lecture by Garry Charnock, who spearheaded a campaign to make Ashton Hayes, his hometown, the first carbon neutral village in England. Though the campaign is grassroots and has only been going for a few years, they’ve made remarkable process, reducing their energy consumption, attracting a lot of press and empowering the local community. Charnock’s got a background in engineering and journalism, so he tells a convincing story, but his success as a community organizer is the most inspiring.
Visit the project website or watch the video on YouTube.