In the words of Smash Mouth, all that glitters is gold. If such is true, this weekend at the Carrack will be especially gilded.
Beginning Friday, Chelsea Masters, a Duke alum, will present her art in a solo exhibition titled “The Cliché of Banality” at the Carrack Modern Art in downtown Durham. As the title suggests, the works on display feature mass-produced objects so commonplace that they would barely register as art if not for Masters’s deluge of glitter that blankets every piece.
“I don’t necessarily aim for anyone to come away with any kind of understanding,” said Masters, who graduated in 2011. “Why I like glitter and this art is because it’s visually interesting. Whether you like conceptual art or whether you really give a damn about art, you can look at these pieces and be entertained. That’s one of the purposes of the art, a commentary on entertainment.”
From the tone of the collection, Masters seems to critique not only the instant gratification of mass media but also the way consumer culture manages to latently influence our way of thinking. Masters does this slyly with one piece consisting of carefully glittered toothbrushes attached to a mirrored surface.
“When you go to the grocery store, there are 5,000 toothbrushes, I swear to God,” Masters said. “There’s an entire wall of different brands, different colors, different textures, different bristle strength and none of this matters. There should probably be three toothbrushes in the world. There’s probably three degrees of toothbrushes that really make a difference, and yet we have all of this energy and thought and production going into pretty much useless shit.”
Despite her recent foray into the Durham art world, Masters did not participate in any art classes or organizations during her time at Duke.
“I’ve always made art since I was little, drawing, painting. But I didn’t do it in a very serious way,” Masters said. “I think being an artist is more of a philosophy than a constant behavior.”
At a student art exhibit held at the Bryan Center last year, Masters contributed a glittered McDonald’s quarter pounder. “I’m developing the same sort of idea, but for this exhibition, I put a lot more thought into it to create more pieces.”
One in particular will inevitably be the talk of the show— Masters intends to display an entire rotisserie chicken covered in lifelike colors of glitter.
“Hopefully it’ll smell like chicken. I’m going to cut it up and hand it out to people, and they can eat it if they choose,” Masters said.
While some art is created with an intention of timelessness, Masters realizes that her glittered chicken will have a somewhat shorter lifespan.
“That’s an art piece that I’m going to put a ton of time into and it’ll be destroyed the same day. It’s not going to last, it’s going to be thrown away. All of the art that I’m making is kind of rendered useless.”
That emphasis on the viewer’s personal involvement is one of the fundamental objectives of the Carrack Modern Art, a gallery which maintains a focus on community-driven upkeep and freedom from commercial pressure. “We do have artists who have work that is commercially appealing, but about half of our artists produce work that cannot really be sold or possessed in tangible form by the visitors who experience it,” said Laura Ritchie, gallery director at the Carrack. Ritchie described Masters’s exhibition as “innovative and interesting.”
“Her title sums it up perfectly. Commenting on the way our culture consumes is brilliant,” Ritchie said. “This line she’s walking between the sexy allure of glitter and the repulsion of covering food in a non-edible item, it’s just very funny, and it’s also very smart.”
As a new space in Durham, the Carrack Modern Art is relatively detached from Duke University.
Nevertheless, Ritchie earnestly appeals for student involvement: “Duke is a huge part of this community that we haven’t tapped into yet, but we want to. Duke students are just as important voices in the Durham community as anyone else’s.”
Masters’s voice, reflected in this thoughtful critique on material excess, provides a rare opportunity to reexamine the commercial undertone of all objects, no matter how lavish or commonplace.
“The Cliché of Banality” will be on display at Carrack Modern Art from September 7-9.