An exhibition filled with cardboard boxes naturally speaks to today’s consumer culture. Rather than displaying tangible goods, the materials used to protect and transport commodities are on show here. The exhibition makes an apt critique of commodity culture, illustrating the constant re-branding efforts of corporations, as well as the vast spread of consumerism and its attendant waste.
Upon entering the small, white-walled gallery, visitors notice a handful of white shelves holding boxes. A thin, white platform occupies the floor on the opposite side of the room with a small landscape of cardboard boxes atop. An important visual clue, this platform differentiates the brown cardboard from the gallery’s wood floor, and also implies the arrangement of goods in a store, as if on a pristine platform or shelf. In this presentation, however, only the boxes remain. Tellingly, this points to how consumers buy not only goods, but the brands that represent them.
Each box is partially covered by a design, such as a multi-colored geometric pattern, resulting from various artistic approaches. According to the artist, some designs are a response to the shape of a box. Other times, he conceals existing logos, or uses forms that mimic the size or position of logos on the boxes.
To the visitor, these unsteady lines and blending colors reflect the artist’s hand. In part, this handmade quality emphasizes Baab’s idiosyncratic aesthetic. But it also makes a stark distinction from the typically perfect packaging of commodities and underscores the transformative processes involved in the perpetuation of commodity culture. Just as companies constantly refine and redefine their brands, Baab revises the appearance of his work upon each iteration of this traveling project, which he plans to exhibit in Kansas City next.
The changes for each display, be it the shape of boxes or their placement within the exhibition, echo corporate rebranding efforts, often aimed at growing market share and audience. The traveling aspect of the show and its title, “Cover the Earth,” point to the pervasive spread of consumerism and the anxious, ever-changing brands that infiltrate our lives. (Amy Haddad)
Through August 1 at Threewalls, 119 North Peoria
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently a Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition and Art Editor of Newcity. Formerly, he was Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.