Image: Brian Jungen, Carapace, 2009-2011, Courtesy of the Artist and Casey Kaplan, New York
What can you say about an artist who builds a dead-ringer whale skeleton out of plastic patio chairs, a totem pole from golf bags, aboriginal masks from basketball shoes, an igloo from recycling bins? Gimmicky? Nope. You’ve got to see British Columbia sculptor Brian Jungen’s stuff to believe it: funny-ha ha, yes – but funny-brilliant, too, and absolutely freighted with cultural meaning.
And now’s the time. Jungen, whose ancestry is Swiss and Dunne-za First Nations, is fresh off a major show at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. His new show just opened at Edmonton’s striking new art gallery, the Frank Gehry-esque Art Gallery of Alberta.
What is Jungen’s point? Well, Adbusters-types see it as a potent critique of consumer culture – the unseen impact of mass-produced stuff on poorer folk including, yes, aboriginals. The great Canadian critic Robert Fulford calls what Jungen does the art of “radical substitution,” and puts him in the lineage of Picasso. (Think of Picasso’s bull skull made from bicycle parts.) If possible, time your visit to the Art Gallery of Alberta for Feb. 23 and catch the lecture on Jungen’s work by Paul Chaat Smith, who curated Jungen’s Smithsonian show.
“Brian Jungen” runs through May 8 at the Art Gallery of Alberta. www.youraga.ca