Is High-End Art as Social Practice a Form of Commodity Activism?

Cheryl Pope, “Remember to Remember” (2013), metal display case, brass name plates, fluorescent light (courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery)

Cheryl Pope, “Remember to Remember” (2013), metal display case, brass name plates, fluorescent light (courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery)

CHICAGO — At its most rarefied levels, art as social practice seems oxymoronic. Is it possible to produce work that jars the elitist art world out of its aesthetic bliss while appearing on its sanctified white walls? Probably not. Cheryl Pope’s solo exhibition Just Yell at Monique Meloche Gallery irked me for this very reason — it is deeply entrenched in the agenda of art as social practice. In this Chicago art world moment of Cheryl Pope’s exhibition, multiple local critics have applauded this show for its boldness in “talking about gun violence in our city.” I don’t buy it.

If we want to have a real discussion about “gun violence in our city,” let’s all go to the Chicago Public Library and check out books that discuss the systematic, socioeconomic, and racial inequalities of this hyper-segregated city. To start, I recommend Alex Kotlowitz’sThere Are No Children Here, on the lives of two boys living in a Chicago housing project, or Studs Terkel’s The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream, which gauges America’s problems not through the towers of academia but through the experiences of real people. If you have suggestions for more books to read, leave them in the comments section below! For now, I’ll try to stick to a critique of Pope’s exhibition.

But, in the case of Pope, I do believe that there’s something to be said about an artist trying to start a conversation about something that isn’t trapped in the art world’s smoke and mirrors. But if it ends in the gallery, it still becomes just another commodity — something to use and consume, to wrap up in a pretty, blinged out box. The failure of art as social practice, as it were.

Read the full story on Hyperallergic: http://hyperallergic.com/76617/shout-it-the-art-is-the-social-practice-is-the-market-oh-yeah/