Critics’ Picks

Douglas Coupland, Tsunami Study 9, 2018, found items, acrylic paint, Plexiglas, 11 3/4 x 21 1/2 x 5 3/4”.


Douglas Coupland

Daniel Faria Gallery
188 St Helens Avenue
March 1–April 28

Canadian writer and multimedia artist Douglas Coupland paints (or, rather, hoards) himself into a tricky corner in his latest exhibition, “Tsunami,” a meditation on—and prettification of—disaster. One looks at this complex yet visually simple assembly and concludes that Coupland, a master of Pop art machinations, has taken Pop’s sparkling nihilism to its logical end, its deadly last burst of blinding emptiness—an emptiness full of remorse and resignation.
Comprising a series of clear plastic vitrines stuffed with plastic bottles and other refuse Coupland scavenged from beaches of his native British Columbia, the exhibition looks rather mundane at first, exactly like what it is: trash on a plinth. But closer inspection reveals that Coupland has gussied up his findings, dappled them with candy-colored latex paints, with splashes and dips of gold, pink, lime green, etc. He has given them some pop, and thus Pop.
All the instant ecological metaphors are present. We are choking the oceans with garbage. Plastic microfibers are invading everything, including our drinking water and the bodies of fish. Some of the junk exhibited could be refuse from the 2011 tsunami in Japan: The oceans are now killing us too. Yet despite its eco-awareness, there is an obvious, troublesome circle in play in “Tsunami”: Coupland takes valueless plastic trash, objects originally designed to seduce consumers, decorates and encases the rubbish in more of the very same substance that makes it “trash,” and then—voila!—the stuff is valuable again, costly art commodities. Plus ça change.

I’m not moralizing here; I’m telling you that my heart is broken. Broken by the inevitability of it all, of the trash-to-cash cycle that Coupland both exposes and exploits. Come, Armageddon, come Armageddon come.