Art: Any which way you 'can'
Marin group lifts lid on creativity with 'Can Do' at the Falkirk
Marin's EDGE Art Group has launched an exhibit that extracts layers of
meaning from a motley assortment of ordinary materials. Visually
arresting, intellectually provocative and at times
laugh-out-loud funny, "Can Do: Art Inspired by the Can"
transforms the detritus of commercial culture into objects that
provoke questions about everything from the allocation of
natural resources to the plight of those on the margins of our
economy, to the value of art itself.
Sound like a pretentious undertaking? The show at Falkirk
Cultural Center is actually quite the opposite—accessible and
comprehensible, achieved with a deft touch and infused with so
much humor that a visit to the gallery feels less like an
afternoon of scholarly research and more like an hour spent in
the presence of a quick-witted stand-up comic.
The group's driving concept was to take one of the most
common food and beverage containers and see how far it could be
stretched. The result is three rooms full of riffs on the nature
of the can, its composite metals, the graphics printed on it and
even its socio-economic associations. The cylindrical form lends
itself to mechanical creatures such as Enrique Goldenberg's
dancing figures ("Pas de Deux"), his Ninja-esqe "Can Fu Warrior"
and Cecelia Thorner's undulating snake ("Tastes Like Chicken").
Flattened and pieced together, multiple cans become malleable
metal fabric, as in Jeanette Carr's "I Can Crazy Quilt" or
Stuart Wagner's "1st Prize: Aluminum Quilt Division" with a
garish-pink band of Tab, not available in California in many
Then there's the can in contemporary art. Wagner works this
angle in at least three pieces—one, a literal can of worms;
another, a giant can opener that my companion Tina Roberts
correctly titled "Church Key"; and a third ("Souper Man"), a
large-scale rotating figure in the style of Keith Haring
overlaid with a blowup of a Campbell's soup label, an obvious
reference to Andy Warhol. Poking fun at two gods of 20th century
art in one piece is clever; doing so within the parameters of
the EDGE exhibit is brilliant.
Copying real objects has long been a favored activity of
contemporary artists. Robert Gober has copied everything from
sinks and lightbulbs to bags of cat food. Warhol did a series of
life-size Brillo boxes; British sculptor Rachael Whiteread makes
plaster casts of fully loaded bookshelves and discarded
cardboard boxes. Cynthia Jensen is solidly in this tradition
with "Landfill," four rusty cans in a vitrine. Easily
overlooked, this is the most subtle piece in the exhibit.
Jensen's cans aren't cans at all, but porcelain copies so
perfectly rendered that it's impossible to tell them from the
real thing. Only the label on the pedestal gives away the
secret. "Cynthia is easily the most accomplished fine artist in
our group," Wagner and metal sculptor Ventana Amico confided
during a tour.
Of course, the can lends itself nicely to interpretations of
mechanical devices. Goldenberg produced a 1930s-style machine
gun ("Happy Valentines Day"), while the group collaborated on a
life-size all-can VW bus ("Canavan") seen bursting through the
wall in the largest room. Like a comic-book panel rendered in
3-D, "Canavan" deserves a home in one of Marin's funky music
clubs. Given the vehicle's history, nicknaming the piece "Canabus"
Wearable art—or art that appears to be wearable—is a strong
theme. Giselle Kappus offers "Aba-can-da-BRA" an aluminum
brassiere like something from Lady Gaga's personal collection.
Jensen turns brass and aluminum cans into gas masks with "Got
the Vapors," while Wagner's "Bootsweiser" is a pair of cowboy
boots fashioned from wood and Budweiser cans.
Amico ventures far into the unwearable with "Faux Fur Sure,"
a life-size riff on a woman's fur coat made from discarded
industrial implements and sharp-edged coiled metal shavings
swept from a machine shop's floor. It's the kind of garment that
might have been all the rage among monks in the Dark Ages.
Melody Oxarat's "Ready?" is a similarly imposing vest made of
dog-food cans and amulets—armor both real and metaphysical.
Amico also has five small figures in puffy coiled-steel skirts
("Yes, We Can-Can") and an imposing bas-relief image of Rosy the
Riveter ("We Can Do It!") made of juice cans, wine and Champagne
foils, espresso pods and bits of steel.
A few pieces in "Can Do" are primarily decorative, such as
Kappus's "Blue Light," a chalice resembling a small fondue
heater, Carr's "Sewduko" and Jensen's "Samsara." Wagner's "All
AmeriCAN Flag," made of Pepsi, Coke and Budweiser cans, comments
on our national drinking habits as well as our aesthetics. No
art exhibit exploiting man-made materials would be complete
without commentary on the natural world, among them Kappus's
all-aluminum "Canadian Herring" and Thorner's "Canned Pork," a
disturbingly amusing piece in which a pig's snout protrudes from
the center of a rusty sea anemone.
Neither would such an exhibit be complete without an allusion
to money. Shoko Kageyama Klyce has a finely tuned sensibility
about this all-too-sensitive subject. In a previous Falkirk
exhibit, she offered a large quilt made of moneybags, titled
"Security Blanket." Primarily a fiber artist, Kageyama Klyce
here works beautifully outside her usual medium, fashioning
paper-thin soda cans into a perfect replica of a standard
shopping bag, with a couple of hundred copper pennies as
ballast. "Redemption" alludes not only to the scant compensation
earned by those who collect cans for the recycling value, but to
the fleeting sense of spiritual renewal induced by shopping.
Truly, pennies from heaven.
EDGE Art Group's exhibit runs through March 12 at Falkirk
Cultural Center, 1408 Mission Ave., San Rafael. Tuesday - Friday
1-5pm; Saturday 10am-1pm. www.falkirkculturalcenter.org ,