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Attention Wall-Art shoppers!
Talking shop with SlopArt
BY CHRIS THOMPSON
Artists Adriane Herman and Brian Reeves have recently made Portland their home. In doing so theyíve made it home base for SlopArt™, a project that in one fell swoop will make you re-examine your expectations of where and when art can and should be experienced, and refuse you the possibility of ever again throwing out the ad pages in the Sunday paper without close inspection. Appropriating the look and feel of an advertising insert for Wal-Mart or Home Depot, SlopArtís free high-gloss circulars are contemporary art catalogues, packed full of objects and items that you can buy online or over the phone. Indeed, why should the galleries and museums have all the fun ó not to mention the monopoly ó in the experience of art, from viewing it to buying it?
SlopArtís media-savvy strategy gives contemporary art a refreshing accessibility, shipping it out, shopping it around, demystifying the insular world that has been built around its creation, critical interpretation, packaging, and presentation. The Phoenix recently caught up with Slop Artís proprietors via email to “talk” about their work and its place in our future.
Phoenix: How did SlopArt get its start?
Slop: Slop was and is a manifestation of our urges to be capitalistically proactive, to avoid sitting around waiting for the art world to validate us, and to attempt to imply we already have the imprimatur of the art world, heck even the mainstream.
The first use of the catchy and confounding SlopArt brand name was in 1995 when we were graduate students studying printmaking, that is: lithography, etching, and other less-antiquated methods of making tall stacks of art. The goal of the first Slop project was to lure people into the galley to see the fine-art products that we (five) had made atop our ivory tower. The vastness of the printmaker community there at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could easily have lulled us into thinking we had a diverse audience for our work. However, we craved a dialogue that was based in broader human experience, and were compelled to put effort into extending our audience in scale and character.
Since 1997, we have organized four biennial “Supermarket franchise tours,” which frame the work of Slopís founding artists in a broader context. All were accompanied by catalogs designed like sales fliers, which have grown steadily in thickness and edition size. The ranks at Slop H.Q. thinned to two at the turn of the century, but we continue to work with the “Slop Brand” identity with the blessing of the other original Slop artists, and have promoted the work of over 300 artists to date.
The presumption of cultural capital is our specialty ó taking the bull by the horns and being proactive rather than waiting for our white knight in the form of a gallerist or curator to swoop down and ÒdiscoverÓ us and bestow upon us art-world recognition. People often ask why ÒSlopÓ . . . it rhymes with pop, of course, and it implies consumption, with only partial digestion.
Q: Will SlopArt have a presence here in Portland? What are your plans for future projects and modes of disseminating this work?
A: We are eager to connect with our new community. In our “Art Sells” fantasy: we look forward to utilizing Portlandís deep water port to facilitate our importing and exporting of fine-art products to and from around the world. It was serendipitous that one of us attained full-time affiliation with the very lively Maine College of Art, an institution committed to harnessing the vast potential for a truly symbiotic relationship between any arts institution and its immediate and broader communities.
Among other efforts to normalize the viewing and buying of art within society, we have recently inserted 35,000 of our latest circulars into two urban newspapers in the Midwest. Hopefully this spring PortlandĖarea residents will experience 24 pages of full-color fine-art offerings, representing a broad range of prices and conceptual constructs, tumbling onto their kitchen tables amidst the copious other circulars . . . but ours will be the only one with a tear-out Adriane Herman mini-poster! Those who feel that dedicated art-viewing spaces best facilitate their art consumption can satisfy those urges from March 10 to April 12, when Plymouth State College, in Plymouth, NH, will host the second franchise on the 2003 tour.
Q: In his recent book Why Art Cannot Be Taught James Elkins argues that although it is common to hear artists lament the fact that the public is uninformed about the work they create, on the other hand it could just as well be said that the burden lies with artists themselves; that specialized training and education and the discourse of contemporary art insulates artists from the public they claim to want to reach, and that, in fact, artists must educate themselves about what the general public finds interesting and engaging. Slop Art occupies an interesting space in between these two points, at once injecting a critical bite into the Sunday morning flip through the ad pages, and inserting a refreshing sense of humor and levity into the tendency of some critical artistic practice to exhibit a kind of loathing of mass culture.
A: We are consistently struck by the cultureís need to pigeonhole ó to define expressions narrowly and then move on once it feels it ÒgetsÓ it or at least nails the sound bite. This tendency desensitizes us to nuance, and encourages misinterpretation or dismissal of ambiguity as a flaw. How could we have an uncomplicated view of mass media, as it is a powerful force capable of bringing information literally to billions, and yet in the main its potential languishes. Why not take back the airwaves rather than Òkilling your television?Ó Why not view newspaper inserts as an appropriate place for the presentation of fine art?
We agree with Elkins that the art school paradigm is generally not preparing students for a lifetime of good old fashioned people-pleasing. However, the potential for the viability of art in this culture requires concessions on both sides of the membrane that exists around the art world. There must be an acceptable meeting ground where artists begin to make their work more accessible, in delivery system if not in content, and in turn the vast public must be willing to entertain some concepts that are not purely premised on entertainment.
Q: Lastly, any thoughts on how SlopArt can help to achieve world peace?
A: If the eclectic offerings of the remarkably broad span of contemporary artistry were more readily celebrated by mainstream culture, then difference and eccentricity might be championed above compliance with the kind of narrow cultural outlook that breeds xenophobia and myopia. The basis of active hatred and oppression as well as inadvertent disenfranchisement so often boils down to fear of or even simple discomfort with difference. Perhaps it seems stilted to discuss these weighty issues in the same breath as our efforts to promote and recontextualize fine art through commercial bombast, but frankly artists are so far removed from the American cultural consciousness that we are effectively silenced in the bigger picture, despite how we may ramble on and on to one another behind the closed door of the art world. Who knows what might happen if that impasse were at least a screen door.
Chris Thompson teaches at the Maine College of Art and can be reached at email@example.com
For more info check out www.slopart.com or send a S.A.S.E. to Slop Art Circular Distribution Center, P.O. Box 10011, Portland, ME 04104-0011.