CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- The University of Virginia Art Museum will feature "Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture" Friday, Sept. 1 - Sunday, Oct. 29. Contemporary artists are involved in a vital dialogue with mass culture. Their work challenges our assumptions about the identity and function of art in a world saturated with media images and messages. Many are using the materials of mass culture as the very material from which they make art, acknowledging the seductive power of popular imagery.
"Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture," which opens at the University of Virginia Art Museum on Sept. 1, features more than 60 works by more than 50 cutting-edge contemporary well known and emerging artists working in any and every medium - paint, sculpture, photography, mixed- and multi-media, book arts, printing and digital output. They are all engaged in a clear dialogue with mass culture, media industries and the history of fine art's own vocabulary of methods and subjects of expression.
Curated by U.Va. artist, art historian and Robertson Professor of Media Studies Johanna Drucker, the exhibition draws its initial impetus from arguments put forth in Drucker's recently published and highly provocative book, "Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity."
"Artists are engaged in a new studio-based but conceptually self-conscious dialogue with mass culture," Drucker said. The artists use 21st-century materials and ideas while at the same time drawing on art history. The works are fabricated and carefully crafted and "seductive, beautiful and very rich in that way."
In a departure from 20th-century ideas of art and art criticism, Drucker argues that "mass culture is no longer perceived as the enemy of high art. Instead, artists are working in a curiously complicit relation to the production values and ideologies of mass culture. And yet, fine art continues to create a space apart - a space in which the ability to think differently about the very materials, objects and forms in which experience comes into shape are reworked."
Drucker chose the title of the exhibition as a means to challenge the academic and critical establishment that relies on outdated ways of talking about art and calls for a new critical voice to discuss art grounded in mass culture and at the same time grounded in making and processing, in studio practice and artful production, which are the foundation of current artists' work.
The exhibition includes sticker and decal painted collages by Susan Bee; repaintings by Bill Davenport; paintings by Joel Duggan, Alexis Rockman and Lisa Yuskavage; video sculpture by Tony Oursler and Jennifer and Kevin McCoy; sculpture by Jessica Stockholder and John Waters; photographs by Sharon Lockhart and Gregory Crewdson; and works by John Gossage, Janet Cardiff, Judy Fox and many others.
The museum is embracing mass culture in presenting the exhibition. A DCD comprised of an essay by Drucker, images of work in the exhibition and podcast interviews with selected artists accompanies the exhibition. The electronic information will also be posted on the museum's Web site - www.virginia.edu/artmuseum.
"Electronic distributed access is emerging so fast," Drucker said. "We hope the Web site will provide a continued dialogue that moves the exhibition beyond the museum space into a broader context of multiplicity."
Web publication also allows information to be constantly updated, which a printed catalogue does not, said museum curator Andrea Douglas. She added, "Using the Web in this way allows the museum to start to build online archives. We felt it was important to have a critical mass of information that could be made accessible."
The exhibition encourages interaction. Descriptive labels that accompany each work have been expanded to include thought-provoking questions about the work's relation to mass media.
Related exhibitions will be presented during this period at Les Yeux du Monde and Second Street Gallery in downtown Charlottesville. The exhibition is sponsored by the University of Virginia Volunteer Board, the FUNd, Arts Enhancement Funds, Art$, the Arts Board, the University Council for the Arts, Digital Media in the Robertson Media Center, Media Studies Program and Richard and Barbara Lane.