Slopping Spree

Two curators take a circular approach to art

Jan 8, 2003 at 4:00 am
Normally when you walk into an art exhibit, you get paintings on white walls and sculpture on pedestals. At Slop Art, you get art in bags hanging from racks, not unlike a hardware store. Along with small identifying placards next to the works, Slop Art gives you huge, garish wall signs advertising "Low, Low Prices!" and "Buy One Get One Free."

At the typical gallery opening, you'll find artists drinking wine and mingling. When Slop Art comes to the Center for Contemporary Art on Friday, you'll find curators Adriane Herman and Brian Reeves wearing matching uniforms and change belts, asking you whether they can "help you find something" or "demonstrate" the art.

The traveling exhibit/collective/performance-art piece known as Slop Art takes the experience of buying art and gives it all the banality and nonchalance of walking into McDonald's for a Quarter Pounder -- or is it the other way around? Herman and Reeves have mounted a half-dozen Slop Art shows, expanding their vision of bringing art to the masses, goosing the snobby gallery system and screwing with folks' expectations.

Their shtick is endlessly elaborate. Visitors might find point-of-purchase displays loaded with original art, a newspaper machine filled with sheets of adhesive stamps called the "Eye Candy Sampler," cola taste tests, "Sold Out: Please Reorder" signs on walls where art has sold, large price tags that all end in .99 (from $1.99 to $4,999.99), UPC codes on the art and gentle strains of Muzak wafting across aisles of merch.

The COCA exhibit includes a self-guided audio tour similar to the ones for major exhibits at big museums, except that the Slop Art audio commentary features "bombast and sales pitches," says Herman.

Perhaps the greatest gimmick is the Wal-Mart-style circular available near the front of the store -- er, gallery. This show catalog is laid out and printed to look exactly like something that would fall out of the Sunday-newspaper ad section. In fact, reports Reeves, when these deceptive circulars are distributed outside the gallery environment, people frequently assume they are something from Wal-Mart or Target and throw them away without reading a word.

The catalog, like the shows, is on the level: All the art inside is for sale. "A lot of people find it weird that we put unique objects in mass-produced catalogs," says Reeves.

The art itself ranges from abstract expressionist paintings to a toy dump truck filled with wax turds -- anything goes.

So what's the point of this ultracheesy hard sell? To satirize the blueblood art market? To sell art that we middle-class jamokes can actually afford? To make money for starving artists around the globe? To mess with people? Make them laugh? All of the above -- but, especially, to push egalitarianism.

"Our interest is really in trying to get people in a gallery who maybe have never been in a gallery," says Herman. Art galleries can seem "alienating and intimidating," she adds, and shouldn't exist solely for "elites or people with master's degrees."

Maybe so, but that noble message is blended with some biting, tasty satire, too.