Critics’ Picks

Sarah Staton, SupaStore Air, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Sarah Staton, SupaStore Air, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Martha Rosler and Sarah Staton

Midway Contemporary Art
527 2nd Ave SE
November 5–December 17, 2016

This exhibition comprises new iterations of two long-standing projects that take complementary looks at commerce, identity, and shared space in the age of globalization. Both projects initially functioned as critiques, but at this political moment, viewers may suddenly find themselves acutely nostalgic for a time when establishing a shared currency and visual language—as opposed to building walls and retreating behind borders—was seen as a good thing.
Martha Rosler began her ongoing “In the Place of the Public: Airport Series” in 1983, photographing airports as she traveled around the world. Thirteen color photographs from the series line three walls of the show, clad in heavy frames that recall the light-box ads so ubiquitous in airports. These photos of luminous but lonely spaces (moving walkways, an empty luggage carousel) are surrounded by ominous phrases printed on the walls: “mergers and acquisitions,” “total surveillance,” and so forth. A video screen displays additional images.

Sarah Staton’s first SupaStore popped up in 1993 and was reprised several times throughout the decade. Installations functioning as working retail stores for artist-made multiples, the “SupaStore” series both facilitated exchange and commented ironically on the marketing of creativity. Here, SupaStore Air includes examples of pieces from that era (for example, Hadrian Pigott’s 1993 Girl ? Boy Soaps) and newly made pieces by dozens of artists (screen-printed shirts, modified sunglasses, and more).

From today’s standpoint, the SupaStore concept looks prescient: From 3-D-printed sculptures on Etsy to architect-designed toasters at Target, commercial products have been embraced by many artists as valid media for their work. Rosler’s “Airport Series” resonates differently. While the project reflects past preoccupations with corporate homogeneity and the surveillance state, the photos also evoke a more hopeful time in geopolitics. Dare we wish for that time to return?