You’d be forgiven for mistaking the image above for a photograph--and a boring one at that. No one wants to go to an art gallery to look at a snapshot of something you could find in an elementary-school kid’s desk. Except that the eraser isn’t actually a photograph. It’s an acrylic painting, painstakingly rendered on a slab of balsa wood just 6 inches wide and 20 inches long.
The artist, Latvian-born Vija Celmins, counts among the many who’ve turned a hand to depicting quotidian objects in astonishingly realistic ways. A cluster of their pieces, from an 8-foot-tall milk carton to a jar of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds by Ai Weiwei, goes on view at the Walker Art Center in February.
Realism isn’t anything new (nor was it when this particular artistic trajectory got underway in the late 1960s). You have Photorealism, with its slick urban landscapes, and Pop Art, with its fetish for flash and brand names. The difference here is what’s being portrayed. The artists in Lifelike see something extraordinary in banality: Everything from trash bags and cigarette boxes to weeds, and, yes, Pink Pearl erasers make for enticing subject matter.
Which wouldn’t be terribly impressive if not for the fact that these artists spend an insane amount of time elevating all that mundaneness into works of art. Imagine how long it must’ve taken Peter Rostovsky to precisely replicate a photo of a stage curtain using oils on a 6-foot-wide bolt of linen. Or the hours Yoshihiro Suda must’ve spent hand-carving magnolia wood to look like weeds sprouting from the gallery floor (final slide). “In seemingly inverse proportion to the ease of producing goods for the marketplace, many artists are slowing and complicating their own working methods, remaking banal things into objects of fixation and desire,” the museum says.
Hear that? Boring is in.
Lifelike opens February 25. More info here.
[Images courtesy of Walker Art Center]