Saturday, February 10, 2007

Branded and On Display

As I began a recent article posted to the UIUC web site, entitled “Multi-artist exhibition explores culture of consumption,” I was greeted with a bland statement of the obvious—one such as I often encounter when sifting through the endless stacks of essays penned by freshmen rhetoric students. Offering the brand of enlightenment typical of Fox News, the author proclaims:

“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.”

Hesitant, I nevertheless read on, expecting to be informed that it is also no wonder American children who spend hours in front of the television are growing fatter, lazier, and more ill-read by the day.

While the article itself leaves something to be desired, one hypothesizes that the exhibit it describes aims not to simply tell us what we already know, but to show us what we might otherwise miss. The beauty of art, in the words of novelist David Lodge, is that it is able “to overcome the deadening effects of habit by representing familiar things in unfamiliar ways.”

“Branded and on Display,” an exhibit at the U of I's Krannert Art Museum that might be termed a socio-economic commentary regarding our “culture of consumption,” features the work of UIUC’s own School of Art and Design faculty members Conrad Bakker and Laurie Hogin, along with the work of some 20 other artists from around the globe. The progressive showcase encompasses various forms of media, including photography, painting, sculpture, but also video, sound and installation.

“Branded” will remain on display through April 1st and “Commerce and Consumption” through May 13th. For more information, visit

If you need a little impetus to make the trip, consider this quote from Victor Shklovsky, who himself coined the term "defamiliarization:" "Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war...And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life."

From the exhibit, Hank Willis Thomas’ “Branded Head,” a digital C-print mounted to Plexiglas.

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