(Click the image for a full slideshow.)
By Catherine McCulloch
“Milk and cereal, milk and cereal, milk and cereal, milk and cereal...” Artist Ryan Alexiev’s allegory of consumerism gets a little soggy at his new exhibit at the gallery Mission 17. On the other hand, I left the exhibit with cheerios on the brain.
Alexiev, a San Francisco local, explores the history and social implications of cereal consumption through his art. The didactic nature of his work makes this exhibit feel like a lesson on mass consumerism with an emphasis on advertising. Alexiev creatively uses different forms of media to get his message across, and some of his work is borderline genius. It’s one of those exhibits you walk through and wonder if the artist might be just a tad insane.
Though the subject matter of the exhibit is rather serious, Alexiev approaches it with a sense of humor. A key example of this is his video installation titled "The Wizard of O’s Revisited." It's a Wizard of Oz parody featuring Kellogg as Glenda the good witch. In this video Alexiev battles Franken Berry, the symbolic ruler of sugar cereal and mass consumption. Frankenberry plots to destroy the world with his new invention, “the golden spoon,” a mechanical device that force-feeds the consumer with cereal.
Raised by Bulgarian immigrants, Alexiev uses his heritage as a counter example to what he sees as American consumerism. In the United States, cereal is the most popular breakfast food. There are approximately 400 different kinds of cereal on the market. Alexiev believes that having this many choices gives people the false sense of free will and individualism. Cereal, in Alexiev's head, has become such a staple food item in the US that it has affected the way people think. Instead of asking someone if they eat cereal it is more reasonable to ask them what type of cereal they eat. Furthermore, the type of cereal you eat apparently says something about who you are.
Even if you don’t buy into the concept behind Alexiev’s work, the art itself is a feast for the eyes. A portrait of Larry King was one of the first pieces in the exhibit to attract my attention. The "Larry King Sh-O’s" was constructed out of breakfast cereal on wood, then varnished. The realism of this piece is impressive, to say the least. It contains a headline that reads: "UFOs: Real or Fake, Controversial Debate over Existence of UFOS, Claims of Alien Abductions." Along the bottom of the portrait are tv tickers that say things like: "Spears Back in Rehab, US Judges Reject Appeal by Guantanamo Bay Detainee." All of this is written in cereal!
The most eye popping installation is the "Land of a Million Cereals," a Cereal Monolith. This massive reconstructed box of cereal is a collage made of the front panels of cereal boxes. The collage creates an optical picture of the front of the trix cereal box on one side of the monolith and a man’s face on the other side. A glass case in the center of the room contains a real human skull covered with Cheerios painted gold. The piece is titled, "For the Love of God." A little creepy, no?
But what I can’t get out of my head is the you tube video, "Milk and Cereal, that Alexiev downloaded and displays in the gallery. The video features the song “Milk and Cereal” by G Love and Special Sauce. It's a video montage of different groups of people dancing and miming the words to the song. Here’s a taste of some of the lyrics: “Milk and Cereal Milk and Cereal…Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs…Trix are for kids Trix are for kids...” The clip is a sad indicator how completely we have swallowed the ad campaigns of the cereal market.
Where: Mission 17
2111 Mission St. Suite 401 San Francisco
Exhibition dates: June 6-August 2
Gallery Hours: Wed-Sat, 1-6pm (or by appointment, (415) 861-3144)
Artist Talk with Ryan Alexiev: June 26, 2008, 7pm. Conversation, wine and Bulgarian peasant food! This event is free and open to the public. RSVP to info@mission 17.org
More on the Artist: Alexiev was recently commissioned along with the Cause Collective to create a video installation for the Oakland International Airport, which was also selected for inclusion into the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.