The first thing you see when descending the staircase to the Sub-Mission is a two-column list of holidays and occasions. Birthday, Christmas and wedding are three of the twenty-five listed on the gallery wall. One can imagine all the gifts and cards purchased each year to commemorate these events. This overwhelming laundry list of occasions society celebrates or acknowledges sets the tone of Kelly Lloyd’s installation, titled “Gift Baskets by Occasion.”
The gallery says the show addresses the “acts of giving and receiving in a capitalistic society” with gift baskets lining the gallery wall. Seven hanging, wrapped baskets suggest the banality of gift-giving, since each one is filled with the same generic contents: bottles and containers without labels or brands. The uniform gifts are individualized only by their wrapping, the ribbon denoting the occasion. Indeed, the message is clear: gift-giving has become impersonal today, with people using the same gifts for different occasions and different recipients.
Commodities and consumer culture have been a favorite subject for artists for decades: Haim Steinbach and Jeff Koons are examples of artists who have taken up this topic. So a refreshing way to think about Lloyd’s show is considering the state of consumer culture today as it can be understood by gift-giving.
Today, society not only consumes things, but also information and experiences. The gift baskets point to society as a consumer of goods, but the magazines placed in a magazine rack nearby suggest the consumption of information. And the picnic basket and card hint at society’s increasing preference for experiences over things; an image of a beach in Bora Bora, for example, may have made this connection more explicit.
The debut of “Gift Baskets by Occasion” is timely: it opened on the heels of several December holidays celebrated with the exchange of gifts. Society will probably always desire material things, and the show’s nod to today’s changing consumer culture makes it relevant and worth seeing. (Amy Haddad)
Through February 27 at the Sub-Mission, 1431 West Chicago.
Elliot Josephine Leila Reichert is a curator, critic and editor. She is the inaugural Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. She was formerly Curatorial Fellow at the Chicago Artists Coalition, Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.