New Institute of Contemporary Art exhibit suffers from inconsistency.
Today’s museumgoers would barely blink at the sight of a tissue box or packing peanuts on display in an art gallery. Yet creative interpretations of found objects continue to inspire both artists and viewers by taking materials out of their normal contexts. In an exhibit entitled “Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab,” currently on display at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), artist Gabriel Kuri presents his unconventional combinations of found objects. At times, the creations are pleasantly surprising, yet often the assembled objects confuse viewers by communicating apparently inconsistent messages.
Born in Mexico in 1970, Kuri found a source of inspiration in his contemporary Gabriel Orozco, an artist who also explores the aesthetic potential of utilitarian objects in his work. In this particular selection of pieces displayed at the ICA, Kuri examines the material trail left by each consumer in the form of receipts, containers, bags, and refuse. Receipts are the artist’s dominant and most successfully employed material throughout the show; the diverse range of sculptural roles that these thin slips of commercial paper play is truly impressive.
For Kuri, transactions and the receipts they generate represent individual affirmations of the consumer’s habits, and as a group, they form a diary or record of his or her existence. Kuri has creatively repurposed hundreds of his own personal receipts; in several untitled collage works, the slips are superimposed onto weathered vintage advertisements, while in a piece titled “Column,” a huge stack of receipts is impaled on a floor-to-ceiling metal spindle. One of the most visually compelling pieces in the exhibit is a series called “Untitled—Superama I- III,” which is comprised of three intricate wall tapestries, each hand-woven by hired artisans from Guadalajara, Mexico. It depicts three sets of receipts from identical purchases made by the artist at a Mexican Walmart.
In these works, Kuri carefully avoids any condemnation of consumerism. His decision to commission monumental, handmade wall tapestries suggests that these records of our purchases, combined with the actual act of buying, should be documented and celebrated as part of our cultural tradition just like the art of weaving itself. Kuri promotes a similar embrace of consumer society with “Thank-You Clouds,” an installation which features clusters of plastic bags attached to the ceiling, inflated and buffeted about by nearby fans. The sculptures are both whimsical and delicate, and make no attempt to criticize the environmentally unfriendly process by which they were made. This lack of cultural condemnation proves refreshing, as it allows viewers to focus entirely on the intriguing visual forms before them.
However, this sense of indifference to environmental concerns does not hold true for every piece. In an untitled installation, Kuri constructs a conveyer belt modeled on the moving checkout counters found in supermarkets. An empty aluminum energy-drink can rolls across and continually bumps against the plastic edge of the belt with a metallic clanking sound. Though the piece strongly communicates an image of monotonous and wasteful consumption, it noticeably lacks the creative use of material which enlivens Kuri’s other sculptures. He simply transplants a common commercial device into the context of the gallery, but its new setting does not lend the piece any surprising, beautiful, or controversial qualities. Indeed, the belt functions just as it would in a supermarket, but with the added irritation of the rhythmically clanking drink can. While Kuri’s receipt pieces highlight their own visually interesting qualities, such as the orderly, mechanized format of the list and the luminous, translucent paper, the simple recreation of the ubiquitous checkout counter fails to be thought-provoking. In this way, Kuri is most successful when he avoids tired messages of environmental conservation, and instead focuses on the purely creative potential of his materials.
—Staff Writer Sally K. Scopa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org