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A look at art as commodity — and ‘schwag’ as art

Geoff Hargadon’s installation of “Schwag.”

Geoff Hargadon’s cheeky, infectious “Cash for Your Warhol” conceptual art project began back in 2009. The economy was in a tailspin when Brandeis University’s board of trustees voted to close the Rose Art Museum and sell off its substantial collection of modern and contemporary art. Hargadon posted a sign outside the Rose: “Cash for Your Warhol,” with his own cellphone number.

Brandeis didn’t shutter the Rose, and its collection remains intact. Hargadon has gone on to post his sign, which elucidates the snarled relationship among art, commodity, desire, and cachet, at art fairs, where art is often sold at a fever pitch. His new show, “Warhol Coming Soon,” at Gallery Kayafas, extends his examination of selling and social status.


He reaches beyond the art world with “Schwag,” a series of photographic portraits of the goodies distributed for free at trade shows. The crisp images feel as insidiously irresistible as the gifts themselves, which are sleekly designed, occasionally adorable, and often useful. Imagine on a small child’s bed a stuffed bald eagle, the mascot of a financial services company, or a koala from a pharmaceutical convention.

The ick factor in the “Schwag” series is a little too obvious. Hargadon’s subtler when he sticks with the art world. His “Cash for Your Warhol” plaques immortalize voicemail messages left in response to the sign. One starts off: “What you’ve done is a garden-variety act of criminal vandalism.” Emblazoning run-of-the-mill voicemails on zinc plates is a clever Warholian twist that plays into Hargadon’s essential question: What is valuable? Indeed, what is value?

Remi Thornton’s companion show at Kayafas, “Jesus Coming Soon,” has nothing in common with Hargadon’s exhibit save the title, which in Thornton’s case comes from a neon sign in one of his sumptuous color photographs taken at night.

Photographer Remi Thornton’s “Canadian Farmstand” is on view at Gallery Kayafas.

t in the dark with a long exposure, hues and glimmers invisible to the naked eye soak into the image. In “Green Corner,” a parking lot wall is moodily luminous, and in “Car Wash,” darkness surrounds the gleaming white interior, filled with red rubber drapes and blue brushes. My favorite piece, “Canadian Farmstand,” has a similar formal clarity, but where the tones in “Car Wash” pop, the warm tones here beckon: A golden shack glows beneath a generous roof with lolling lights at its eaves, and an empty shelf tilts toward us, welcoming.


A photographer transformed

Carlos Jiménez Cahua started out as a documentary photographer, then went abstract in his photos and with his ideas. There are a few photo-based works in his show at Samson, but now we must call him a full-blown conceptual artist, with a teasing sense of humor his earlier work did not reveal.

“Untitled #75” by Carlos Jiménez Cahua, at Samson.

He adds a DIY riff to Sol LeWitt’s methods, in which the instructions for constructing a wall drawing were the essential artwork. Jiménez Cahua leaves many decisions up to the dealer, buyer, or curator, and bends his work to fit.

In “Untitled #75,” the dealer, in this case, chooses any object to be painted and positioned at a juncture of wall and floor painted the same color. The folks at Samson opted for a can of spray paint. This hands-on approach can give a curator, or a collector, a sense of collaboration with the artist. With the paint can they went small, but they could have chosen something big.


This artist is fascinated with how space is used and perceived. For “Untitled #101,” he painted a block of white on the gray floor, and one of gray on the white wall, measuring according to Samson proprietor Camilo Alvarez’s height and wingspan. Flipping the colors calls attention to space, but the piece is also a biometric.

Jiménez Cahua makes a lot of visual jokes. He props a steam cleaner against an inkjet print of a desert scene in “Untitled #104.” The broad head of the cleaner perched on its hose looks like ET hissing steam at a rapidly warping picture. The absurd, clumsy literalism of trying to humidify the desert is almost sweet, but it also feels one-note. All the pieces reflect a desire to integrate the quotidian into the lofty realm of art without selling out its everyday nature. Sometimes it works.

All under one roof

“Boston Does Boston 7,” the annual invitational exhibit at Proof Gallery, hangs together exceptionally well. There’s a sense of how small things build up into or shed from a larger whole in Georgie Friedman’s hypnotic video “Glacial Melt,” depicting shuttling vapor, and Tatyana Gubash’s paintings based on magnifications of a drawing with her signature repeated in it. Not to mention Chris Faust’s “Accretion,” an eloquent, fracturing hemisphere painted on small, pieced-together squares of paper.

“Accretion” by Chris Faust, at Proof Gallery.

Sculptor Elaine Buckholtz and collage artist Todd Bartel draw on history to fashion layered new works that rely on unexpected juxtapositions. AJ Liberto, in “Work Jerk,” starts with one of his drawings of a crowd made up of a single, repeated figure, and cleverly expands it into a sculpture with frames, boxes, and a slyly placed work glove that brings us back to the tireless man in the drawing.


More information:

CARLOS JIMÉNEZ CAHUA: Neoplasms & Pleonasms

At: Samson, 450 Harrison Ave., through Feb. 28.

617-357-7177, www.samsonprojects.com


At: Proof Gallery, 516 East 2nd St., South Boston, through March 1.

617-702-2761, www.proof-gallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com