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Thursday, October 17, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nothing New In This `Nirvana' -- Coca's Show Adds Little To Tired Theme Of Consumerism's Evils

Seattle Times Art Critic

----------------------------------------------------------------- Visual art review

"Nirvana: Capitalism and the Consumed Image," through Dec. 7, Center on Contemporary Art. -----------------------------------------------------------------

First, this show has nothing to do with the rock band Nirvana. If you're expecting concert photography or portraits of the late, angst-ridden Kurt Cobain, forget it.

Nirvana here refers broadly to the blissful state in Buddhism attained when a Buddhist lets go of earthly desires and passions. Given that the show is meant to be about how advertising, the media, and the other big bad bogeymen and bogeywomen of capitalism force-feed us with images meant to fire our passions for earthly goods, the reference to Nirvana is, of course, sardonic.

Second, we've all heard this message a million times before. Alas, there's also been plenty of agitprop art created on the theme, much of it lots more engaging that what's in this show.

Curated by Susan Purves and Bradley Thompson, the director and assistant director of CoCA, the show has good intentions. Certainly we all know that advertising, television, popular music, the publishing industry and virtually every other kind of media (including all the hot, new multimedia out there), are bombarding us with images that aren't necessarily good for our emotional and spiritual lives.

But with few exceptions, the art and installations in this show do little more than trot out the same old accusations without adding anything new or provocative to the discussion.

The work comes from artists from all over the nation, and it is interspersed with monitors quoting Guy Debord, a French filmmaker and leftist intellectual of the '60s who eventually became so disillusioned with the world that he killed himself. Debord is still remembered in some circles as the author of "Society of the Spectacle," a heavy-handed, highly didactic work that (judging from the monitors) reads like especially turgid Karl Marx. Debord believed that the media and other powermongers keep society passive and downtrodden by hypnotizing people with advertising and empty imagery.

We know, we know

An installation called "Mall Me" points out that shopping malls, with their fancy packaging, false sense of community, and manicured landscaping, are now considered civic centers. (And are poor imitations of real civic center.) Oh.

Another called "The Candy Store" displays Victoria's Secret lingerie catalogs, charge cards and cigarette packs alongside drug paraphernalia. This tells us that the people who try to entice us with lingerie and cigarettes are bad; they're pushers. Not only that, but they try to entice children. (!!!) Does anyone not already know that Joe Camel ads target children?

Some of the artworks are so sloppily made that they look like high school projects slapped together the night before. One piece is made up of Calvin Klein and other fashion advertisements torn from magazines. Hand-lettered signs taped on to the ads tell us what these lascivious teenage models are supposed to be feeling. Even with grade inflation, no self-respecting high school teacher would give it more than a C-plus.

Blueprints only nice touch

Mark Bennett is a former Beverly Hills mail carrier turned conceptual artist whose claim to fame is drawing up blueprints of houses and offices from famous sitcoms. And they are amusing.

There's Ricky and Lucy Ricardo's apartment in Manhattan; Darrin and Samantha Stevens' suburban tract house in Patterson, N.Y.; Gilligan's Island, in the Pacific Ocean; and the Addams' Family home, which has no given address though the detailing on the blueprint is delicious. (Bennett includes such points of interest as the Live Octopus Swamp and the Torture Rack in the Playroom.) Microsoft owns these 10 lithographs and though they're too much fun to have much in common with the rest of this show, they are a relief.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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