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Critical Consumption: Talking back to Ronald McDonald


Post by Andrea Kirsh
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The highest paid writers and artists in our society work for advertising agencies. Their production is ubiquitous, and effective. It sells. That makes New York artist Miguel Luciano mad, and he does something about it. Luciano taught a class for high school students on “Critical Consumption” as part of Fleisher Art Memorial’s Artists and Communities Residency Program and the results are on view at the Suzanne Fleisher and Ralph Roberts Gallery, 705 Christian St. through Feb. 24 (call 215 922-3456 first, for hours).

Luciano taught the students that they could read commercial messages critically and, more important, that they could talk back.

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The results are stunning.

You needn’t be interested in pedagogy to make it worth the trip – the art stands up on its own (and could pass for work of a recent MFA candidate).

The show consists of three large paintings, a stenciled wall piece and tee-shirts and messenger/book bags; the later are for sale from $15-$30. The bags are made from old billboard fabric – ads for McDonald’s, in fact. A European designer sells similar bags, made of the same material, for MUCH more. Only these bags and tee-shirts carry such anti-consumerist messages as “buy less,” or Ronald McDonald with horns and a goatee.

Critical Consumption at Fleischer Art Memorial

The paintings adopt the slickness, formal language and imagery of well-known ads to undermine their messages: there’s Ronald again, crucified on plastic cutlery and surrounded by burgers with wings – all against a background of giant French fries (only a student from a church school would understand the promotional power of Christian imagery), or a take-off on the Snickers advertising campaign, but with the word “haterectomy”.

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The stenciled walls include remarkably-nuanced portraits that the students did of each other. Their ability to achieve such subtlety with stencils is remarkable.

In choosing to teach stenciling, Luciano has given the students a tool that they will readily be able to use. Smart. He’ll be showing his own work next season at Taller Puertorriqueno. I can’t wait.

[Editor’s note: We saw an exhibit of Luciano’s work in Chelsea at the CUE Foundation. Here’s Roberta’s post and here are the Flickr sets with our images–Libby’s and Roberta’s].

–Andrea Kirsh is an art historian based in Philadelphia. You can read her newest Philadelphia Introductions and other commentary at InLiquid.