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Tomfoolery and entertainment in the sanitized supermarket lanes

Wednesday, Mar 9 2005
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What could be more mundane than grocery shopping? Trundling a cart up the aisles, checking off items on a list (mustard, batteries, milk), numbly buying the same products each time until -- hello, what's this? -- a squashed ceramic replica of a bottle of dishwashing detergent, clearly meant to mimic the manufactured bottles it sits beside ... a cereal box emblazoned with circles and stripes that give no indication of what's inside. Clearly there's been some tomfoolery going on in the sanitized supermarket lanes -- and the Pond gallery's new exhibit, "Shopdropping: Experiments in the Aisles," is the result.

Pond co-founder Marisa Jahn thinks the show will score points against the "alienation of commodification," but we're just enjoying the rare cultural critique that's also fun. Case in point: Packard Jennings' Il Duce Action Figure, a video installation that documents the artist creating a realistic Mussolini doll in flawless plastic packaging, sneaking it into Wal-Mart, and then attempting to purchase the item.

No less amusing are the exhibit's numerous other documentations of "reverse shoplifting," in which altered goods are placed in retail outlets to be bought by unsuspecting consumers. Amy Franceschini slipped her Sundial Watch (a timepiece that uses a tiny sundial to keep time) into an upscale department store. Similarly, Conrad Bakker stocked his painted wooden sculptures of cans of motor oil and cigarette lighters right next to the real deal in a number of stores, while handmade pottery replicas of household goods like cans of soup and dog food -- fashioned by the young artists behind the photographic work Lost in the Supermarket -- also shared shelf space with the products they imitate. With photographs, video, and quirky ephemera culled from such experiments, plus a special collection of zines to peruse ("Shoplifting Special: From How-To Primers to Critiques"), "Shopdropping" offers a reason to keep your eyes open behind that cart.

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Joyce Slaton

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