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Our very humdrum lives

by Camille LeFevre
Twin Cities Arts Journalist, 2009/2010 WAMbassador


"Quotidian" is the smarty-pants word for "daily," "everyday," "commonplace." Since Marcel Duchamp turned a urinal upside down and called it art in 1917, the bold re-contextualization of the everyday (even the banal) into the elite echelons of artistic expression and enterprise has been hotly contested. Transforming the everyday into art has no doubt contributed to the democratization -the great flattening and leveling--of our culture at large (reality TV anyone?). When it comes to what gets hung a gallery wall, the results, as the Weisman Art Museum's new show Common Sense: Art and the Quotidian demonstrates, range from iconoclastic innovation to reflections of soul-deadening conformity.

Curator Diane Mullin assembled the show from the Weisman's formidable archives and loans from local collections. The work ranges from Walker Evans's 1930 haunting photographs of the working poor and disenfranchised to Luke Dubois's recent "eye charts" created from common words used in the State of Union addresses by U.S. presidents. Three particular images stayed with me from a walk through last week, however.

One was Andy Warhol's 1968-69 screenprint New England Clam Chowder. Warhol's re-contextualization of commercial grocery products (and their designs)--particularly the Campbell's soup cans--was arguably every bit as revolutionary as Duchamp's readymades (like the urinal). Hung next to James Rosenquist's 1964-65 Spaghetti and Grass--which resembles a mess of SpaghettiOs® in its top panel and artificial turf grass below--the two works sum up the mass processing and production of new foods and nature for the general masses beginning to take hold in the mid-20th century.

By the time visitors get to Anthony Marchetti's photograph Apartment for Rent, the processing of our very humdrum lives into generic, utilitarian living space produced for the masses is on display. Within the bleak beige-walled box--with a single Venetian-blinded window--the d├ęcor is limited to multiple electrical outlets, an air conditioner embedded in one wall, and a long length of cable cord winding spaghetti-like (or perhaps as an umbilical cord) along the floor. In this image is an existential question that leaves me feeling bereft, grieving for the souls that find themselves there and for a culture that allows such places to be.


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