Let Them Eat Tastykakes
Standing between a projector and his small, rapt audience at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery, artist Matthew Eskuche sells his newest glasswork the way a jeweller sells diamonds. It’s all about four big C’s: corporations, capitalism, and class consciousness (that’s two in one, if you’re counting.)
The exhibit is “Dollar Menu: a Fast Food Aesthetic,” and it looks something like Morgan Spurlock trashing Marie Antoinette’s private quarters. One work, a restored vanity heaped with glass facsimiles of goblets, wine bottles, and crushed beer cans, is called Let Them Eat Tastykakes, which confirms our assessment. Another is 99 Billion Served, heaped with fast food refuse, a perfect post-modern take on those old Dutch still-lifes. Or there’s a shoved-over can, spilling out whitewashed trash.
The Whitewashing of Corporate Greed
But this isn’t just more garbage made up as art (ahem, Justin Gignac); it’s art meticulously handmade to look like garbage. To wit: that empty beer box? Look again. It took fifty hours (yes, five-oh) to create its perfect facsimile. “Beer bottles” are made of sandblasted, painstakingly repainted glass. Suddenly, the prices—$10,000 to $30,000 for the installations; closer to $2000 for small pieces—seem not just quantified, but justified.
Eskuche is refreshing, a rare type of artist who admits to his his artwork as work, not art. And not work for money in that hyper-commercial, Hirstian way, either, but work almost for the sake of work. Doesn’t that make it craftwork, then? So queried a friend-in-the-know, when we Twittered post-exhibit, and the question gave pause.
Our answer is: sort of. While Eskuche says he works in “the mode of craftsman,” he also talks about exploring concepts of over-consumption and convenience (those Cs again). In his talk, he is logical, plain-spoken, and entirely unartsy; his madness is all in the method. The processes he shows-and-tells, slide by slide, are craftsmanship. But applying such a painfully slow process to the facsimile-making of fast food, using that contradiction to deepen the divide between our consumption and our consciousness, that’s an idea worth buying into; that’s bang for your buck; that’s real art.
Matthew Eskuche’s “Dollar Menu” exhibit is on at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery (55 Mill Street, in the Distillery District, where there will never be a McDonalds) from now through March 7.
Photos courtesy of the Sandra Ainsley Gallery.