• Remi Thornton show "Jesus Coming Soon" featured in Boston Globe

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


    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.

    Shot 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.

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