Contemporary American Art
and Mass Culture


Susan Bee, Red Dot, 1998, Mixed media collage
Collection of the artist

Highlights of the Exhibition


University of Virginia Art Museum
September 1 - October 29, 2006

Alberto Rey, Rainbow Trout, Bighorn River, Fort Smith, Montana, 2004, Oils on plaster, 33h x 48h


Curated by artist, art historian, and media studies professor Johanna Drucker, Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture takes its initial impetus from the arguments put forth in Johanna Drucker's recently published, highly provocative book Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Complicit! makes the argument that artists are engaged in a new studio-based but conceptually self-conscious, dialogue with mass culture. Daniel Wiener's artfully created playfully biomorphic sculptures made of vividly colored, plastic, cloth, and pipe-cleaners, Alexis Rockman's ultra-realist painting showing inter-species communications and biosphere-type environments, and Nancy Chunn's reworked newspaper headlines- all show that artists are using contemporary materials and media as the "stuff" and substance of their work. Likewise, Gregory Crewdson's staged photographs, Susan Bee's eclectic sticker-and-decal painted collages, and Bill Davenport's quirky quasi-cartoon realist objects are each distinct but share a common acknowledgment of the seductive power of popular imagery. At the same time, their artworks are very much made objects. Studio-based work is back.

Artists in the 1990s and 00s seem to be eagerly opportunistic with regard to matters of taste and materials. Nothing is taboo, no holds barred. Current work builds on the outrageous legacy of Marcel Duchamp and his readymades and extends the daring gestures of Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, and a host of Fluxus and Happenings artists. It also draws on the enthusiasms of Pop and the intellectual reflection of Conceptualism. These works share a commodified flare and bravado, as if in recognition of a need to compete in a high-gloss world overrun with "things" of all kinds.


The exhibition consists of work by 46 well-known and emerging artists representative of this broad-based phenomena in contemporary art (bios and images attached). They work in any and every medium--paint, sculpture, photography, mixed- and multi-media, book arts, printing and digital output. All are 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, as evident in Terri Weifenbach and John Gossage's Snake Eyes, an offset photographic artists' book that echoes with themes of paradise and innocence, knowledge, Eros, and the Fall. Unapologetic use of commercial printing makes this work gorgeous and seductive, immersive, engaging, compelling.

Our curatorial team consists of Johanna Drucker, Robertson Professor of Media Studies at U.Va.; Andrea Douglas, curator of collections and exhibitions; and Jill Hartz, Museum director, with a larger planning committee including faculty in the McIntire Department of Art, the Museum's education department, area teachers and artists. Drucker held faculty positions at the University of Texas (1986-88), Columbia University (1989-94), and Yale University (1994-99), and was a faculty fellow at Harvard. She has taught at SUNY Purchase, San Francisco State, and U.C. Berkeley, and lectured on contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Pompidou Center, ICA in Boston, Detroit Institute of Art, Chicago Art Institute, Cal Arts, and many other venues. She was brought to U.Va. six years ago to establish a new media studies program, which she directed for five years. Her artists' books are in museums and libraries throughout the United States and Europe, including MoMA, the Getty, the Stedlijk, and many other public and private collections.