Art at the Coalface of Consumerism

Posted on March 4, 2012

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Ah, the annual art drought. So little to see and even less to say. But it’s March already. Time to get back to work even if it is a little post the event…. post even for The Post Post. Ironically, or perhaps completely appropriately given the fact that it was January and Sydney-siders one and all were immersed in sale-trawling, a gratifying, greed tinged frenzy of selfish buying (and at a good price too!) after all the culturally proscribed giving of Christmas, the best thing I saw all summer was not in a gallery at all, but at the coalface of consumerism.

I was actually on a bus, on my way to the MCA to see the much hyped, Recorders by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer when the window display in the massive Louis Vuitton store on George Street caught my attention. Someone had turned all those outrageously priced handbags into a giant crocodile, kangaroo and a menagerie of smaller critters. I was intrigued, but undeterred from my mission to look at real art.

At the MCA, I dutifully toured the show with my friend, but many of the works weren’t working, or required so much explanation and intellectualisation to enjoy that I just didn’t. The exception was the one with the motion-sensor triggered measuring tapes. Each tape would rise to wobbly heights (how high depending on how long you stood in front of it) and then come crashing down (narrowly missing hitting gallery visitors).

I’m sure I could have made links to masculinity, and measurement and the inevitable fall after the thrilling rise (of men, civilizations, you name it) but really I just I thought it was hilarious.

But much as I loved this one piece, it’s the Louis Vuitton critters (which turned out to be a commissioned piece by British artist Billie Achilleos) that remain in my mind months later.

Maybe they struck a chord because they were just so honest and unpretentious. And before you start the outraged comments about how can advertising luxury handbags be unpretentious?!! I mean they were not pretending to be anything but what they were; a cunning ploy to make already highly desirable, utterly unnecessary items, even more desirable. Art is used to sell, sell, sell all the time, but rarely is it done with such panache.

I suspect there is also some tricksy post-modern irony at play in Achilleoss critters, something about consumerism, crocodiles and maybe even crocodile tears, not to mention jingoism, national identity and zombies (there is something creepy about making a life-sized animal out of lots of its dead brethren). Either way, they were clever and amazingly well constructed. Artists are often accused of selling out if they make deliberately commercial work. Work that sells is seen as somehow substandard (and often it is) but Achilleos has sold out in order to sell and has still made something amazing.

Tracey Clement

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Posted in: The Bad