Dumpsters ‘r’ us–Daniel Petraitis at 201

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Daniel Petraitis, Dumpsters (there are three sizes in all)

Everyone kept saying “the dumpsters” in reverent tones whenever I brought up the fact that I was headed to 201 Gallery at Kelly and Weber to check out Daniel Petraitis’ exhibit there. I’ve seen some great dumpster art before–Tim Belknap‘s thumper dumpster (Red Dumpster With Strap-On) at Slought, Billy Blaise Dufala‘s Dumpster Coffin at the Main Line Art Center. But I wasn’t sure the world was ready for another dumpster piece.

To see Daniel Petraitis’ five dumpsters is to love them!!!


The dumpsters (there are three versions, five dumpsters in all) are part of a one-man show, Daniel Petraitis Waste Management, an exhibit of 11 sculptures (depending on how you count) and a series of photographs. Each piece, plus the show logo (DP, styled like the logo of the real Waste Management dumpster pickup company), is seriously considered and beautifully made.

Daniel Petraitis, Circa 2008, cast resin
Daniel Petraitis, Circa 2008, cast resin

The Dumpsters, for starters, have the miniature thing going– the clunky looming street furniture miniaturized into rather idiosyncratic shapes. Much like Petraitis himself, they are a funny mix of charm and attitude, loving detail and unforgiving edges. They are dumpsters and they are little robots; they are us.

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Daniel Petraitis, Incinerator, steel, electrical components, quartz, 2008, The width dimensions are around 4″ x 4″ I think


Each of Petraitis’ dumpsters looks perfect and pristine, much like the real things, with slick green surfaces and black plastic lids that look industrially made. But these do not come off an assembly line. All this made me think of how alike and different they were from Donald Judd‘s stacked boxes. Petraitis is not cool like Judd. And while he likes that industrial finish, he’s smokin’ angry, and one of the places he is pointing his smoking finger is directly at the industrial waste and uniformity that are devastating our culture and its values. Most of the pieces in this one-man show burn red hot, literally and figuratively, using hot processes. At the same time, Petraitis, like the rest of us, is clearly seduced by the beauty of productland and its seductive surfaces.

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Daniel Petraitis repairing one of the nichrome (heating/toasting) wires in his piece Controlled Waster. The piece is made of mdf, glass, nichrome wire, electrical components. The button on the right turns on the juice which then cuts off via a timer

Speaking of hot, a miniature incinerator–also perfectly made with unforgiving edges– makes baby amounts of electricity at 450 F., or at least, so we are told. Controlled Waste is an Agnes Martin piece turned into an anti-toaster oven. It allows you to waste the electricity at a phenomenal rate at the push of a button–for only a moment; then it shuts itself off. The horizonal wires glow red for a precious moment of pleasure, and then go gray. Petraitis, 26, a Philly native whose BFA is from Massachusetts College of Art, was in the gallery when I arrived for the show, fixing a burnt-out wire in Controlled Waster.


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Daniel Petraitis, Scrappers, framed photographs, 2008

I asked about Scrappers, a collection of about 60 photographs presented matted in three framed and matted grids. Petraitis said the photos were of guys who buy a pickup truck for $500, scrounge metal from around town and sell the metal at $500/day. A nice return on your investment, he pointed out. The obsessive repetitiveness of the images, the archive of scrappers scrapping, reminded me of Hanne Darboven reduced to an essence. I didn’t get the sense that Petraitis was lionizing the recycling happening here. Rather he was thinking in terms of the amount of scrap metal we are producing as a society.

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Daniel Petraitis, “The Surface of …,” Chrome plated steel, 2008

I liked almost everything in this show. Fossils, the cement slabs embedded with prints of plastic waste, were the most expected pieces in the exhibit. Otherwise, this was really an outstanding one-person debut!!! Here’s my flickr set.

For more info on Petraitis, check out David Kessler‘s studioscopic interview of Petraitis, and Annette’s post on his exhibit at Little Berlin with Martha Savery.