Friday, January 05, 2007

The art of Whole Foods

Co-publisher Debra Brehmer writes in the online art magazine Susceptible to Images about the arrival of Whole Foods in Milwaukee last September. Her essay pivots on a discussion of the organic food megamarketer's attempt to incorporate local art, beginning with the way they invited -- and then uninvited -- American Indian artist Matthew Kirk to show at their store's grand opening opening. Mike Brenner of Hotcakes Gallery in Riverwest, which represents the artist, commented on the chain's decision to rescind their invitation after a regional VP determined that “the work didn’t fit Whole Foods’ Corporate image."
Brenner says, “It’s hard to say why they pulled Matt’s work. I think like almost everyone in Milwaukee, I was initially fooled into thinking we were all lucky to have them here, like it said something positive about Milwaukee. I was flattered to think we finally deserved a salad bar with huge cloves of roasted garlic, stuffed grape leaves and salad greens other than iceberg, but when I walked through the new Whole Foods with designer’s eyes, I realized it’s all an act. It’s all marketing, catch phrases, and GIANT logos. I think they pulled Matt’s work because it’s real. It conveys emotion, doubt, honesty and a sense of history. Those ideas no longer have a place in American popular culture.
Brehmer writes that Whole Foods has since set up a local art exhibition program that seems designed to guarantee an appropriate level of corporate blandness.
In subsequent months, Whole Foods did get a “local art” program initiated. Art in the Market allows artists to submit proposals for periodic small shows in the store’s “lifestyle” corridor and its Allegro Coffee Lounge. Interested artists can access applications can be printed from the wholefoodsmarket. com website.

The first artist selected, whose work is currently on view (although you have to hunt for it in a rather remote back hallway on the way to the restroom) is Paul Matzner, a local photographer. He has a series of travel shots, which look like standard, pretty magazine fare, quite innocuous and essentially generic. The slickness of the photographic surface and the distance imposed by their foreign locales perhaps made them a perfect non-committal choice for a business that relies on packaging as its primary means of communication. On Nov. 30 at 6 p.m., a new show of work by Wauwatosa “expressionist” artist Pamela Anderson opens. But why show “art” at all if this is the goal? Politics, I fear, and an attempt to warm-up the corporate formula.
Brehmer has written a far-ranging essay on art, design and the ethics and esthetics of modern corporate organic farming and marketing. Read the rest of it here.

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