A chain letter is a message sent in an effort to induce friend and stranger alike to pass it on, often under pain of punishment or promise of benefit. Today it's a handy, analog metaphor for digital social networks.
In June, artists Doug Harvey and Christian Cummings sent a chain letter (actually, a chain email) to 10 artists each one admired, inviting them to show up and participate in a Shoshana Wayne Gallery exhibition -- and to invite 10 friends to do likewise. When the "Chain Letter" show opened, work by more than 1,600 artists was jammed into the space, plus two overflow galleries nearby.
Similar shows are underway in nine other cities, from Seoul to Berlin.The resulting friendly chaos is like a "Hoarders" outtake. Bergamot hasn't seen lines of eager artists like this since the casting call last September for Bravo TV's reality-contest comedy show, "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist." Every item is numbered (some resourceful artists brought their own labels), but on the day I visited the enormous object list was unfinished. So, most things are anonymous.
No matter. Forget treasure hunting. The community of artists is an iceberg whose tiny tip is what is seen in institutional settings, while what we glimpse here is a huge, usually submerged chunk.
Dominated by sculptures with just a smattering of paintings, it turns up a few themes, such as a surfeit of Brancusi-style "endless columns" made of tin foil, scrap paper, rocks, assorted plastic stuff and envelopes (ode to antique chain letters). Clothing is also popular, fashioned from store receipts, eyeglass lenses and black-and-blue lace (think fashion "victim"). Golden threads on a white blouse make an elegant hair-shirt. Denim pants with one absurdly elongated leg puns on modified genes.
There are plenty of scatological rants, plus assorted self-promotional ads. This is really Harvey's and Cummings' show, however, a disruptive, Brobdingnagian found-object assemblage scavenged from endless Internet highways. Think one part Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence and one part digital "On the Road."
Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through Aug. 23. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.shoshanawayne.com
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— Christopher Knight
Photo: "Chain Letter" installation view. Credit: Shoshana Wayne Gallery