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Multi-artist exhibition explores culture of consumption

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor

Released 1/16/2007

oil painting by Laurie Hogin
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy Laurie Hogin

Laurie Hogin
"New Colgate Luminous Enamel-Strengthening Cinnamint Toothpaste"

from "Allegory of Psychodemographics: Twenty-Four Brands My Family Uses in a Typical Summer Day," 2006
oil paint on panel
24 panels, each 11 x 14"

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It’s no wonder Americans are heavily invested in a culture of consumption. As targets of ubiquitous corporate branding campaigns and marketing mania, we are bombarded 24/7 on all fronts – through every conceivable form of mass media and product packaging, at sporting and entertainment venues, and even lobbied by the apparel of friends and family.

The unified message conveyed by each of these delivery systems: Buy! Buy! Buy!

But not everyone is passively buying what’s being sold.

Among them are the 20-plus artists from around the world featured in “Branded and On Display,” a new exhibition organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s Krannert Art Museum and on view there Jan. 26 through April 1.

Exhibiting artists include U. of I. School of Art and Design faculty members Conrad Bakker and Laurie Hogin, and Amelia Moore, a U. of I senior from Downers Grove, Ill., majoring in photography. Other participating artists are Ai Weiwei, Amy Barkow, Ashley Bickerton, Michael Blum, Louis Cameron, Diller + Scofidio, Terence Gower, Pierre Huyghe, Clay Ketter, Ryan McGinness, Donna Nield, Haim Steinbach, Tempi & Wolf, Yuken Teruya, Hank Willis Thomas, Brian Ulrich, Siebren Versteeg and Zhao Bandi.

Working in a broad range of media – from painting, sculpture and photography to video, sound and installation – the artists explore the motivations, methods and sometimes the underlying madness exhibited by both partners in the frenzied tango of consumption – product pushers and product purchasers.

“The exhibition is a reflection of the world in which we live, or is pointing to one in which we’ll be living in the future,” said Judith Hoos Fox, a visiting curator at the art museum. Fox is co-curator of the show with independent curator Ginger Gregg Duggan.

“Ours is a culture defined by marketing and acquiring,” Fox and Duggan observe in text from the catalog that accompanies the exhibition. “With one of our founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson – a compulsive shopper, this just may be part of being American. Virtually every activity in our lives is experienced through purchases, from bassinets to caskets. The landscape is studded with logos, brand names, and billboards – inducements to participate in a culture defined by the acquisition of commodities.

“ ‘Branded’ examines the work of artists who explore specific strategies of branding and presentation in their response to this pervasively commoditized environment.”

In addition to images of art from the exhibition and essays by the curators, the accompanying catalog includes essays by three U. of I. faculty members and by Dung Kai-cheung, Hong Kong-based author of “The Catalog,” a collection of short stories with titles referencing brand names. U. of I. contributors are advertising professors Daniel Cook, the author of “The Commodification of Childhood: The Children’s Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer”; Cele Otnes, the author of “Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding”; and Linda Scott, the author of “Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism.”

digital C-print of Branded Head by Hank Willis Thomas
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy Jack Shainman
Hank Willis Thomas
"Branded Head," 2003
digital C-print mounted to Plexiglas
96 x 60"

In conjunction with “Branded,” the museum also is mounting a smaller, companion exhibition, “Commerce and Consumption: Works From the Permanent Collection,” through May 13. The related show, which draws from the museum’s collection of works on paper, demonstrates that images relating to commerce, consumption and branding are nothing new in the annals of art history.

A public opening reception for both exhibitions will take place from 6-8 p.m. on Jan. 25. The reception will feature a children’s project room as well as music by two Chicago-based ensembles: “Environmental Encroachment,” an interactive performance-art and marching band, and “The Dolphin,” which creates its unique sound mélange from a combination of collected field recordings, post-rock pop structures and dense beat progressions.

Also planned in conjunction with the exhibitions are a number of auxiliary events, including talks by Fox and some of the exhibiting artists, a workshop for teachers and an industrial design and advertising exhibition and competition open to U. of I. art and design, business and advertising students. The exhibition, co-sponsored by the College of Business and its marketing department, opens at the museum on March 29. The show and competition will feature student product designs and corresponding advertising campaigns created in response to the “Branded” show.

In 2008, “Branded” will travel to the Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, Mass., where it will be on view Jan. 17-March 30; from June 14-Sept. 14, it will be in Arizona at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.