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Back to the Arcades
by Joel Kuennen

When walking into Discount Mega Mall, you have the feeling that you are entering an indoor flea market. And in fact you are. $20 jeans, tattoo and piercing booths, bling and engagement rings, Catholic bric-a-brac, car stereos with candy colored subwoofer booths are scattered amongst vacant 10’x10’ lots in long rows that circle in on each other. The shop owners all seem to lounge in their small stores waiting for a potential customer yet not actively pursuing any casual passerby. Amongst this nonchalant theater of capitalism, “BROWSING MEGAMALL” set up shop in a weeklong series of daily exhibitions orchestrated by Marcel Alcalá. When speaking of this project, curator of “BROWSING MEGAMALL,” Bea Fremderman of Kunsthalle New, invoked Walter Benjamin’s ingenious and famous Arcades Project as a source of inspiration, as well as Benjamin’s ideas concerning reproducibility of art. The work selected reflected this bent along with a few other interesting curatorial gestures in this design-heavy show.

First, none of the work was labeled in any way, shape or form, aside from one that consisted of a card table, holding two MacBooks outfitted with garishly digital cover stickers that were just off enough to consider their existence a matter of art. Next to these lay ordering forms, ostensibly to purchase a decorative laptop sticker for yourself. That’s as much of a label as was given. At this point, it became clear that the curation was primary and had been elevated to an interventional degree—to its own art. 


Installation view of "BROWSING MEGAMALL" at Mega Mall Chicago. 2011.


To the left of this table was another installation. A white step-shelf (like one would find at Ikea) supported three water bottles, each with their own logo that was a slightly different from the last, like a project in the process of completion. Next to the staircase shelves, two painter’s smocks hung at 45˚ angles. A print of some abstract painting was emblazoned over the fronts of the smocks. A mug with a grayscale 3-D design stood on a small shelf next to the smocks. Two shirts hung from the ceiling with the same design.

In the middle of the room, on a white pedestal, a laser-cut image of a girl’s face with frizzy hair (the curator as a preteen) glowed in the neon ribbons of a glass cube. Along the far wall, canvases were stretched with a sort of polyvinyl burlap and layered, one on top of another, in ascending sizes—a comment on material art in the age of mechanical reproduction. On the opposite wall, a textile print  was hung like a tapestry. In the center a stone slightly askew on a background of regular stones, fitted like rock camouflage. At the main entrance, on a low table, a hinged, metal puzzle box and its pieces lay. All the pieces were a monochrome blue. The border had been completed by the time I arrived and four kids sat diligently around the table, attempting to fill in the middle.

"BROWSING MEGAMALL" at Mega Mall Chicago. 2011.


“BROWSING MEGAMALL” was one of the more odd exhibitions I’ve ever been to, due to the context within which it was found. Layers of irony oozed as the privileged world of art and low-income consumption met under the fluorescent lighting of Discount Mega Mall. The two worlds did mingle, kids worked on puzzles and one of the gallery-goers got a piercing from the tattoo parlor a few booths down. The dissonance that defined this exhibition space would be familiar to Benjamin in light of the arcades. As consumption intensified, it clustered into long halls and brought the city indoors. Who and how people encountered each other began to shift, setting off what would become what we know as materialism. In this alteration of the arcade, perhaps a few kids got to be introduced to some art and some art kids got to be introduced to another way of living.


-Joel Kuennen, ArtSlant Staff Writer

Posted by Joel Kuennen on 9/5/11 | tags: consumerism installation conceptual

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