Impressions, Research

Points of Reference: Haim Steinbach, The Meaning of Things, and Irrational Exuberance Anew

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

It’s been three years since I created Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), a body of work inspired by discount store culture, pleasure and decoration. Recently, I’ve encountered salient art and writings related to those ideas. These references are not too late—in fact, they are perfectly on time, as I’m currently revisiting Irrational Exuberance to envision a new body of work and self-initiated project.

The references are like three planets with shared orbits:

A Two-Hour Drive. A Three-Year Journey.

Featured guests (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

Featured guests at As Is, the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance at Sigh School (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

In the dialogue that accompanied Irrational Exuberance in 2010, artist and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez cited Steinbach’s work (download her interview with Steinbach from his site):

I’m interested in looking at Christine’s work, and work like Christine’s, that transcends consumption as a closed system of signs and symbols. That conversation can be transformative. … I was really interested in how [Haim Steinbach and Allan McCollum’ talked about their objects. …. There are political ramifications for words like consumption—like nihilation—so I think the ability to tackle, and transcend, those conversations is really exciting for me.

I had looked at reproductions of Steinbach’s most iconic works: found objects displayed on shelves. I was inspired by how modest they were, but also found the objects un-transformed, recognizable identities difficult to overcome. Like the drawing instruction, “Draw what you see, not what you know,” when I as faced with Steinbach’s artworks, it was hard to see what was in front of me when it kept on insisting to be what I knew it to be. I couldn’t find the space for visual or conceptual discovery at the time.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006  MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source:

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006 MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source:

I was still curious to learn more, so I visited once again the world is flat. Bard is a two-hour drive from NYC, but it was worth the trek. I gained a profound appreciation for Steinbach’s work by seeing it in person, in abundance, and with exceptionally keen curatorial direction by Tom Eccles and Johanna Burton united with spot-on exhibition design for maximum effect. I didn’t love all the work, or completely understand it, but I fully respected it. I had to wrestle with what Steinbach was doing, what the viewers are meant to do or experience, and what I felt, which was at times pleasure, bafflement, and also despair—the world is flat, leaving my preconceptions about value in limbo. While Steinbach’s work is still potently mysterious to me, I found the accompanying catalog to set interesting parameters about what, exactly, Steinbach’s ideas and works are.

Brute Material Facts

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006  Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source:

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006 Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source:

The aesthetic experience of contemporary art is often like an act of unraveling a riddle. Familiarity with the tropes usually leads towards plausible hypotheses: commenting on this, re-contextualizing that, hybridizing this plus that—you get the idea. Steinbach’s work is more abstruse. It offers no Tootsie Roll center like the center of a Tootsie Pop. In her essay, “Some Collectables,” from the exhibition catalogue for once again the world is flat., curator Johanna Burton points out:

These are not … representations of things, but rather presentations of them.

Steinbach’s objects are not metaphors or symbols to be deciphered. They are all surfaces and cultural associations. They are the point. Whereas, discussions of the readymade, appropriation, and mass production, Burton states,

are only tangential to the brute material fact of what’s actually there.

That “brute material fact” is exactly what I couldn’t overcome initially. And this may also be another point of Steinbach’s—for me, as a viewer, to look at what’s there and to forget habits of looking. As Burton says, the very title

asks us to reconsider what we think we know, and to survey the terrain around us, as if we were seeing it for the first time again.

In other words, Steinbach is asking viewers to move beyond recognition to perception. In The Meaning of Things, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton explain John Dewey’s ideas of perception versus recognition. Recognition is

when we experience a thing and interpret it only as something we already know

Hence, there is no new organization of feeling, attention or intentions within the viewer. Just as I could only see the objects’ identities when I first encountered Steinbach’s work, I could not garner a meaningful aesthetic experience from them. On the other hand, perception is

when we experience a thing and realize its own inherent character … [the] object imposes certain qualities on the viewer that create new insights.

Certainly art objects are intended to create aesthetic experiences that “create new insights” on the viewer; Steinbach challenges viewers to perceive quotidian objects anew.

The Quotidian

In Irrational Exuberance, I sought to question class and value distinctions inherent in decorative objects. Many of the works in Irrational Exuberance are multiples, reinforcing discount stores’ feelings of immediacy and abundance. The subtext is that idea serialized objects can also be personally meaningful. Burton explains that this holds true for Steinbach too:

Steinbach’s interest … in collecting as a mode of production would seem to court the individualistic, affective drive toward objects, while also acknowledging the serial nature of every such ‘special’ object.

For the Things authors, everyday objects bring together the self and the world:

household objects become sights of a wider network of meanings that embrace the whole world.

echoing the very title of the Steinbach show: once again the world is flat. This leveling works two ways: bringing art objects ‘down’ to the same level as quotidian objects and elevating everyday things ‘up’ to the rarified realm of artworks.

In “Not a Readymade” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site) Anthony Huberman interviews Steinbach, who reveals that his work

embraces the idea that art is always with us, a function of the everyday.

Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

Christine Wong Yap, Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

The Things authors even wrote about the role of objects in visual art thusly:

Creative artists are those who can find a convincing visual solution to a problem that was never previously formulated. In the solution, and even in the formulation of creative problems, objects stimulate and help develop the artist’s thought.

In 1980, they could not known to what extent Steinbach would use objects expressly to advance thought.


Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

Christine Wong Yap, Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

In 2010, I wrote that Irrational Exuberance was an immersion in sentiment:

… an exercise in pleasure, modest expectations and accessibility.

With its unabashed enthusiasm, … Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) marks a shift … I became enamored with the aesthetic, symbolic and conceptual potential of discount store culture, the decorative impulse, and the search for happiness.

…sentiment and immediacy are embraced. The exhibition’s title highlights the paradox of thinking rationally about emotional and internal experiences.

My previous work had been “cool”—often black-and-white, reserved, and materially minimal. I found kinship in a quote attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

The meanest habit of humankind is to be skeptical of sentiment.

In the public dialogue, sentimentality appeared divisive; perhaps in the age of irony, audiences automatically assume that elation and enthusiasm cannot be sincere. It’s a comfort to me that Steinbach does not shy from sentiment either. In Giorgio Verzotti’s “Object, Sign, Community: On the Art of Haim Steinbach” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site), he states:

What Steinbach highlights …. is the object as a focus of emotion.

The Reciprocal Relationship Between Objects and Selfhood

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

I’m interested in how objects accrue meaning or sentiment. Are objects merely containers for human associations? Or do they “act” as well? This transaction may be more reciprocal than I think, as objects can also shape humans.

Verzotti describes the link between objects shape the self:

An object, inasmuch as it forms part of our daily lives … to satisfy certain needs, becomes, Steinbach says, vital to the construction of our identity.

This is essentially what the authors of Things set out to study:

how the most complex pattern of emotion and thought can become embedded in and symbolized by concrete things, that is how things themselves are part of the interpretive sign process that constitutes meaning.

They elaborate:

Things actively change the content of what we think is our self and thus perform a creative as well as reflexive function….

Objects affect what a person can do, either by expanding or restricting the scope of that person’s actions and thoughts…. Objects have a determining effect on the development of the self.

According to Burton, Steinbach’s work conjures very similar ideas:

Objects are less about their owners, … and more about the circulations they make…. Objects reflect much of their owners’ beliefs, systems of faith, and measures of value… [and] also produce [them].

The overlap in the ideas between the Things authors, Burton, and Irrational Exuberance are abundant. One of Burton’s paragraphs in particular is especially sociological and psychological:

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. Less a comment on capitalism than an investigation of the production of self, Steinbach’s work acknowledges the fragility of subjecthood—that our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac, to say nothing of priceless mementos, we collect and covet.

This is a sequence of ideas that are relevant even line by line. First, she writes,

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. …[Steinbach’s work is] an investigation of the production of self…

This echoes the Things authors:

the potential significance of things is realized in a process of actively cultivating a world of meanings, which both reflect and help create the ultimate goals of one’s existence.

Next, Burton specifies that Steinbach’s work is

Less a comment on capitalism

This, too, came up at the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors). Some viewers assumed a negative, oppositional critique on my part where there was none. I embraced the bright colors and cheap materiality as sincere expressions of enthusiasm and pleasure, so this perspective was confounding. Where was it coming from? I had theorized that works of art can operate like barometers for optimism and pessimism, and this seemed further evidence that viewer’s projections are just as integral to the reading of the work as the work itself.

Last, Burton writes

our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac

This could very well be a statement for Irrational Exuberance.

The Social Life of Objects

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

In the study of positive psychology, improving one’s subjective wellbeing seems to always begin with the self and expand towards the social. There seems to be a parallel here: beginning with the habits of mind such as recognition and perception, acknowledging the everyday, and considering the organization of the self, and moving on to relationships.

In Steinbach’s interview with Huberman, he states

my practice is directly committed to the social.

How is it that inanimate objects can be social? Steinbach suggests how can they not:

There’s always more than one object at hand. Being here means you and here.

Verzotti’s points out the relational aspect of things between people:

Each object is both an object and a sign associated with a specific social dynamic, a token of exchange with we weave our interpersonal relations…

I’d thought about art objects as props that mediate relationships. Now it appears that objects might function similarly.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton elaborate on the many levels of this social potential:

Objects … serve to express dynamic processes within people, among people, and between people and the total environment. These processes might lead to a more and more specific differentiation or increasing integration…

by which they mean, the individuation of the self or alignment with others. They add:

Differentiation is the result of control, whereas integration is based on participation.

This calls to mind my idea that art experiences are opportunities for enacting trust or skepticism. Perhaps another way to think of art experiences is as opportunities for expressing differentiation/control or integration/participation.

Integration and Differentiation

When I read the once again the world is flat. exhibition catalog, so many points seemed to overlap with my own interests in Irrational Exuberance that I became nervous—which I self-diagnosed as the anxiety of influence.

An obvious similarity between once again the world is flat. and Irrational Exuberance is the use of common objects displayed on shelves. Though I used found objects in non-shelf displays, I collaged, sewed, and constructed most of the objects in Irrational Exuberance. My work conveys “craft” more than “brute materiality.” Further, Steinbach invests much of his constructive energy in the shelves, not the objects on display; in my work, the attention is reversed.

I like to think that I’m forging a different path on shared terrain. Or to use a different metaphor (same idea, different things), since orbits have different trajectories, coincidental moments of proximity are the result of traveling great distances.

Art & Development

As Is transcript, Great Balloon Giveaway photos posted!

as is audience and panel

In case you were wondering:

What’s the role of pleasure in art?
How do you gauge sincerity?
Can Pop art transcend radical negative consumerist critique?

You might like to have a gander at the transcript of As Is: Pop & Complicity, the closing dialogue of my solo show, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Sight School, featuring Glen Helfand, Patricia Maloney, and Ginger Wolfe-Suarez.

Some highlights:

The show is like an experiment; it’s a sincere embrace of different things that are supposed to make you happy. She’s taken a lot of objects that supposedly exude a lot of optimism to see what sort of effect they may have. I don’t think the sentiment in the objects is sincere, but the sentiment in her embrace of that possibility is. (Victoria Gannon)

The term that comes to mind in regards to Christine’s work is ‘added value.’ For example, learning what the Banner photographs are made of makes them more exciting to me. They’re cheesy gift bags that have been transformed. Even though they’re working in the language that the materials are intended to be about—the notion of the gift—they become something ghostly. There’s an added layer of what the artist can bring to the materials. (Glen Helfand)

Also, I’ve just posted some beautiful photographs of The Great Balloon Giveaway shot by Paul Kuroda. Here are some sneak peeks:

The site-specific public project and social sculpture took place at the Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt in Oakland a few weekends ago. It was part of a series of projects sited in historic Oakland architecture called Here and Now. A closing reception for Here and Now is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 26, 8-10pm at Mills Hall, which is also the last chance to see Elaine Buckholtz’ light installation! Prior to that, catch Floor Vahn’s audio installation at Pardee Home Museum.

Full details available at Mills Art Museum or Invisible Venue.

Art & Development

Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) Closing

Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) closed today with a closing reception and an open dialogue featuring guests curator and critic Glen Helfand and artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez. Writer and curator Patricia Maloney moderated a lively discussion on topics such as optimism and pessimism, pleasure in art, the search for happiness, beauty, Kant, viewers’ experiences, discount stores, metaphorical/literal readings vs phenomenological readings, readings vs experiences, and critical versus psychological readings of the work in the show. Work by artists such as Haim Steinbach, Allan McCollum, Cary Leibowitz, Amanda Ross-Ho and Stephanie Syjuco also came up. Numerous artists, critics and curators were in attendance.

I was honored to help convene such thoughtful guests and attendees. Hearing their responses, reservations and speculations about my work was especially humbling.

As Is: Pop & Complicity

Dialog at the closing reception to Irrational Exuberance, Asst. Colors at Sight School, Oakland, CA

Featured guests (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

Vicki Gannon poses a question, as Amanda Curreri, Frank Ebert, Matthew Rana and others look on.

Art & Development, Community


Some connections between projects in Oakland, California, USA and Birmingham and Manchester, England, U.K….

Simon and Tom Bloors' exhibition at Eastside Projects, Birmingham UK, 2009

Simon and Tom Bloors' exhibition at Eastside Projects, Birmingham UK, 2009

Eastside Projects is an artist-run space, a public gallery for the City of Birmingham and the World. It is organised by a founding collective comprising Simon & Tom Bloor, Céline Condorelli, Ruth Claxton, James Langdon and Gavin Wade, who first conceived and now runs the space.

Eastside Projects is a new model for a gallery, one where space and programme are intertwined: a complex evolving programme of works and events starting from radical historical positions. We aim to commission and present experimental contemporary art practices and exhibitions. The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery. Work may remain. Work may be responded to. The gallery is a collection. The gallery is an artwork. The artist-run space is a public good.

We aim to support the cultural growth of the City.

James Sterling Pitt, installation view, Sight School

Sight School is an artist-run exhibition space directed by Michelle Blade. The space began from a desire to create dialogue around new modes of living and being in the world in order to reveal connections between art and life.

As Michelle and I have worked together on Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), I’ve gotten a better sense of her vision for Sight School. She’s committed to her local neighborhood—she makes a point to get to know her neighbors, put up flyers at local businesses, and support the growth of the Golden Gate Arts District (an emergent auxiliary to downtown Oakland’s wildly popular Art Murmur). She is highly invested in community—her decisions that structure the gallery and space are often driven by generosity and openness. She’s got a keen sense of contemporary practice in art. I get the feeling that the gallery is something like a commons for art experimentation; that her aim is to provide a site for artists to do experimental projects that would be considered untenable elsewhere. She seems interested in this as an experiment, thinking of every next move as an opportunity to innovate. This is not merely another gallery; she’s stepping out of the white cube by hosting one-night events, mutual learning projects and discourses. So when I re-visited Eastside Projects’ mission statement, particularly

The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery.
The gallery is an artwork.
The artist-run space is a public good.

it occurred to me that ESP and Sight School might be kindred spirits, with their energetic, unruly collectivity.

The director of ESP is an interesting curator and artist’s book instigator named Gavin Wade. In an interview on, Wade says that American artists differ from their UK counterparts because we’re less

willing to interact and collaborate and allow their work even to sit on top of someone else’s. There’s a certain individuality here; New York is so much about standing alone.

That interest in interaction, collaboration and experimentation that challenges artworks’ autonomy will be at work in Unlimited Potentials, an exhibition organized by Manchester-based curator and performance artist Mike Chavez-Dawson at Cornerhouse.

The show is comprised of several ambitious components, including loads of collaborators (including Wade), a project instigated by Liam Gillick, dozens of contributors (myself included) and a talk with Kwong Lee, the brilliant director of Castlefield Gallery, an important MCR artist-run space (their recent exhibitions include shows by David Osbaldeston and Leo Fitzmaurice and Kim Rugg).

Last year, when I exhibited my installation, Unlimited Promise, at an open studio at the end of the Breathe Residency at Chinese Art Center in Manchester, Mike Chavez-Dawson told me about Unrealised Potentials. I’m excited to play a small part in his forthcoming exhibition, especially when you consider the themes of resisting finished-ness in artwork in We have as much time as it takes at the Wattis:

We have as much time as it takes questions and highlights expectations of achievement, productivity, and established systems of management that make up the programs and academic mission of the Wattis Institute and CCA. … The works embody circular processes, resist completion, welcome change, and refute demands for definable results and resolution. They challenge the conventional form of the art object and the traditional parameters of exhibitions.

I’m excited that this conceptual investigation and expansion of exhibition-form-making is occurring in so many spaces around the world right now. In conjunction with more traditional viewing experiences, viewers of art are being offered more ways to think about art, participate in exhibitions, and complete the speculative thought processes artists begin.

Art & Development

First Friday Openings

Lots of art-fun on Friday to look forward to! Just a matter of picking sides of the Bay; or being super ambitious and light of foot.


Groundswell opening at Kala Gallery
2990 San Pablo, Berkeley, CA
6-8 pm
A juried exhibition featuring Elliot Anderson, Mitra Fabian, Nathan Hodges, Suzanne Husky, Joan Margolies-Kiernan, Rebecca Najdowski, Jennifer Parker and Barney Haynes, and Emily Payne

Oakland Art Murmur
Various Galleries in and around downtown Oakland
6-9 pm
Krowswork is usually pretty interesting.

Junk Pirate at the Compound Gallery
1167 65th Street, Oakland, CA
7-10 pm
A solo show of reconfigured junk store items by Oakland artist, art impresario and zinester Pete Glover.

(Shameless self-promotion alert!)
Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Sight School
5651 San Pablo (at Stanford), Oakland, CA
My solo show of new installation, sculpture and works on paper inspired by discount stores, the decorative impulse and positive psychology.

Here and Now kicks off with the first night of Elaine Buckholtz’ Out of the Blue (Mills Hall Reconsidered)
Mills Hall (c.1871), Mills College, Oakland, CA
Sunset to 10:00 pm
Admittedly, I’m presenting a project on June 5th in this series as well, but I think Elaine’s work is killer too.

The Oakland Museum of California is also open til 8pm. But it is every Friday and Saturday, would you believe?

The Residents perform at the Berkeley Art Museum
2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA
The galleries will also be open til 9pm.


Now and When opening reception at SFAC Gallery
Main Gallery and Grove Street, SF
6-8 pm
Newly-commissioned projects along the theme of time capsules by The Bureau of Urban Secrets, Joseph del Pesco, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Packard Jennings, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ken Lo, Gay Outlaw & Bob Schmitz, Paul Schiek and Margaret Tedesco & Matt Borruso and Taro Hattori. Curated by Meg Shiffler.

Rehistoricizing Abstract Expressionism in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1950s-1960s, opening at the Luggage Store Gallery
1007 Market Street, San Francisco, CA
This show sounds killer. I love it when programming is ambitious. Villa, venerable SF artist and teacher, aims nothing less than to set the record straight on the presence of women and people of color in AbEx, largely seen as a field for macho cowboys.

Curated by CARLOS VILLA. This large scale exhibition creates and contextualizes an archive of women artists and artists of color who were undervalued because of the public and personal hegemonic social and aesthetic scrutiny at that time. Featuring 33 artists.


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

Studio peaks and valleys

Sometimes, art-making is painful. Critic Jerry Saltz summed up torments this way:

the crushing loneliness of the studio and the fear, self-hate, delusion, and shame that go into making art you believe in.

—Jerry Saltz in “What Do You See?,” a review of Red, the play about Mark Rothko, by Stephanie Zacharek & Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine, April 2, 2010.

But rewards await if you push through the valleys.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been producing small works along the themes of modest ambitions and discount-culture decoration for my upcoming solo show at Sight School in May. The projects are sweet and humorous and they fit my concept. But this new work is different than my previous work and what people might expect from me. The thought of unpleasantly surprising audiences is terrifying. Plus, I was worried about how these small projects would fill the gallery space — until today.

This morning, I unmasked some freshly painted walls (Behr Premium Plus: paint the way paint should be made), fired up a new lightbox, and installed three series of small multiples.

My exhibition mock-up delimited and finessed the objects and spaces. It was coherent, yet there was enough mass, visual interest and difference to create a sequential experience. It was optical but also conceptually intriguing (to me, anyway). In short, it started looking like a show. Relief, joy and excitement washed over me.

I’ve got a lot to do before my exhibition opens in May. Mostly, I need to match my ambition with capacity. My needs include: time, creativity, labor, money, ladders, the right kind of critical feedback at the right time, balloons, huge quantities of painter’s tape, laser cut acrylic, pegboard hooks, and more. I would also like to schedule some related programming, perhaps a guest lecture for the closing event… (Maybe this is something I can delegate. Email me if you have suggestions.)