In "Live the Dream!" Lowe creates a humorous critique of consumerism, consumption and the ubiquity and insidiousness of advertising in contemporary society. Visitors to the gallery must navigate Lowe's cash-and-carry installation, "Discount Barn," a mini-store of papier-mâché and ceramic iterations of the jumble of items normally found in 99 cent stores. The installation's abundant signage bears inspirational exhortations such as "Stop Wishing, Start Living! (Ask about our Senior Discounts,)" "Look 20 Years Younger (Must be at Least 21 Years of Age,) or simply, "Aspire." The shelves are loaded cheek-by-jowl with Lowe's humorous versions of items such as "Tear Stain Remover," "Anti-Wrinkle Gel Patches," canned goods and bleach, as well as editions of faux books with titles such as "How to Spot Value."

Paired with the installation is a group of new enamel on panel paintings depicting the same sort of "Discount Barn" merchandise displayed in repurposed Baroque libraries and great rooms. With soaring, painted domed ceilings, elaborate chandeliers and other architectural flourishes, these former seats of social and political power, luxury, and higher learning have been transformed into palaces of commonplace consumption. The interiors are based on composite photographs of extant monastery libraries, cathedrals, and chateaux made during Lowe's travels throughout Europe, but the artist has filled them with big-box store merchandise displays. Also in the exhibition are papier-mâché sculptures of items similar to those depicted in the paintings: a table piled with remaindered books, and stacks of sugar boxes and bottles of corn syrup.

Throughout the exhibition, Lowe engages in a multi-pronged conversation about consumerism. Although critiquing the power of advertising and its insistence that a purchased object can be reliably transformational, the artist herself is engaged in creating consumerist desire with the relatively inexpensive objects found in the "Discount Barn”, all the while acknowledging and asserting the role of the artist as a maker of things.

The books and posters on view are part of an extensive vocabulary for the artist. Over the many years, Lowe has skillfully created satiric, self- reflexive, humorous works including constructed environments made entirely out of papier mâché and enamel paint to resemble an elaborate period, museum-like room, a faux auction house showroom and complex libraries composed of extensive papier mâché book shelves with a designated reading space complete with a hand-painted area rug and a fake papier mâché potted plant. From paintings reminiscent of Baroque palaces to rooms filled with faux merchandise from big box mega-stores, Jean Lowe both subverts and transforms the commonplace with as much vigor as she does examining the more rarified culture of art. Through her re-creations, Lowe slyly engages the viewer in what is real or true, but in the end, poses the bigger question of what has value and why.

Jean Lowe has a BA from the University of California, Berkeley and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego. She is the recipient of WESTAF/NEA Regional Fellowship in sculpture grant, A Pollock-Krasner Foundation award and a CalArts/Alpert Ucross Residency Prize among others. Lowe’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA, San Diego Museum of Art Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, La Jolla, CA, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the California Center for the Arts Museum, Escondido, CA, among others and she has been exhibited at museums and galleries across the US and in European venues, as well.

16 February - 24 March 2012

McKenzie Fine Art Gallery, 511 West 25th St, New York, NY 10001

Jean Lowe is an UC San Diego Department of Visual Arts MFA Alumna. She was also a Lecturer from 1992 until 2008.

Image Credit:
Jean Lowe's Hey Sexy, 2011.
Enamel on wood panel, 40 x 60 inches.
Photo is courtesy of Artist Jean Lowe and McKenzie Fine Art Gallery.