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The neutral white of The Pitch Project’s main gallery space is bathed in a wash of pink light. A couple of camping tents are pitched in the corners, kitted out with sleeping bags and other sundry outdoor necessities. Off to one side, a pedestal holds a monument of Busch Light beer cans. On the walls, photographs show 20-somethings frolicking outdoors in the summer, guzzling beer and cuddling a scruffy cat.
Has camp culture gone campy? In this exhibition, called LIT UP, it is humorous and insular, filled with deadpan irony. The artistic duo behind the installation, known as Gurl Don’t Be Dumb, includes Brooklyn-based Jamie Steel and Eileen Mueller, a Milwaukee native now living in Chicago. Establishing GDBD in 2011, the pair has engaged in a variety of curatorial projects, and LIT UP represents a new direction in their collaborative work, but it’s consistent with their established playfulness and humor.
The inspiration for this exhibition, which was originally presented as a one-night show at Forever & Always Projects in Chicago, goes back to a 2013 residency at ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibition) in rural Steuben, Wisconsin. The end result is a sort of play on stereotypes, particularly dudes who use nature as a drinking venue. As the artists describe in their exhibition notes, “This is your Styrofoam cooler emitting a soft pink glow, this is your moonlight skinny-dip LIT UP.”
A video in the front gallery brings the combination of camaraderie and bravado together. The artists are nonchalant behind sunglasses, sitting in plastic chairs opposite each other in a grassy clearing. They throw plastic darts at each others’ feet, taking three shots at a time, and then a guy clambers in to collect the darts to be thrown again. The point of the lackadaisical dart game becomes apparent when one punctures a can of beer on the ground, shifting gears into a drinking game in which beer is sucked down from the pierced opening. With a stomp and a squash of the nearly empty can, the video ends.
In another gallery, a pop-up shop offers prints, accouterments and “schwag” from earlier exhibitions curated by Gurl Don’t Be Dumb. The humor and self-referential irony are scaled down to more easily portable sizes and price points.
LIT UP is a playful exhibition, one that absorbs and deflects heavy-handed seriousness. It may suggest questions about frayed stereotypes and gender, but is also about a manner of fun. If there are statements to be made, they come through under the haze of a soft glow rather than direct glare.
LIT UP: Gurl Don’t Be Dumb continues through Jan. 17 at The Pitch Project, 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee.
The university semester is winding down, making this a great time to visit area campuses to catch exhibitions before they close. Not to worry, these won’t be on the final.
Through Dec. 6
If you’re interested in contemporary art with a digital twist, do not miss this exhibition. Nathaniel Stern and Bryan Cera present solo and collaborative installations that engage the viewer in a variety of sensory experiences, including sound and movement. The underlying question of the exhibition is a meditation on how technology influences our actions. This is a happy collaboration between people and machine.
At Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design’s Frederick Layton Gallery, 273 E. Erie St., Milwaukee.
Through Dec. 12
This exhibition opens a discussion about Native American culture in the context of the 21st century, asking how traditional stories and customs are preserved in the rush of modern life and what is the impact of European influence on character and socioeconomic structures. There are a number of striking pieces in this exhibition, particularly the paintings by Bunky Echo-Hawk, who deftly uses pop culture references and aesthetics to open up questions about Native American identity and acceptance.
At UWM’s Union Art Gallery, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
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