The big, red American illusion

Oct 18, 2006 at 12:00 am

As one MT staffer says, any shopping trip that begins by walking through acreage of parking lot can’t be good. But, by God, there must be solid reasons sending suburbia flocking to megastores each weekend, loading up carts at Kmart, Wal-Mart, Meijer, Costco and Sam’s Club. If you ask retail reps, they’ll send in some line about low prices, good value and cheerful service. Sure, it’s that. Also, there’s free food samples.

The motivation for a Target trip is really unto its own, and it has little to do with cheap Cheerios. The concept behind the retail giant is a good one — they’ve added a designer class (Isaac Mizrahi, Victoria Hagen, etc.) and tapped into youth consumerism. And they know the majority of middle-class America is looking to buy the illusion of luxury.

Just browse Target’s art selection for proof of the latter. For one, the branded beast sells a framed print of The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano, a 1992 painting that happens to be one of the top-selling posters and postcards in the nation. Vettriano’s piece features a man and woman dancing in the rain on a beach in evening wear. The picture’s appeal is romance, but it’s about escapism into a world with a bowler-capped butler.

Joshua Thomas, of Target’s Media Relations department, explains the chain’s thinking: “We’re currently seeing a movement toward trends that help create the illusion of a gallery right at home or in your office.” He adds that large-scale designs and the “integration of canvas” are a big trend for Target buyers.

Considering the size of the store’s selection, abstract art is also a crowd pleaser. German expressionist Wassily Kandinsky’s colorful “Farbstudie Quadrate,” from 1913, is available for $49.99. (In his book, Concerning the Spirituality in Art, Kandinsky was on to something, quoting romantic artist Eugène Delacroix: “Everyone knows that yellow, orange, and red suggest ideas of joy and plenty.”)

Amid still-lifes of cats and flowers, sidewalk scenes straight out of Nice, France, and sublime landscapes of waves raging against a rocky shore, are contemporary Rothko knock-offs and quiet Ansel Adams prints, suggesting an unattainably calm and reflective existence.

There are also works by those who might weep if they knew how their work was expropriated and mass-produced. Surrealist sculptor and existentialist Alberto Giacometti — whose emaciated figures recall, to many critics, Holocaust victims — gets riffed in Target’s sculpture selection, which showcases a few similar-looking long and lean bronze figurines playing baseball, fishing or fingering a stand-up bass.

And an “El Vendedor de Alcatraces” reprint by social realist Diego Rivera of a Mexican worker with a heavy load on her back is available for a mere $25. Rivera’s representation is soul-crushing. It may be bold and beautiful, but it speaks about insufferable labor, and those elegant white calla lilies symbolize the beautiful spirit of a people who’ve been oppressed. What would Rivera say with his work hanging above the rattan couch of a Republican? Incidentally, should you be interested in hunting down Rivera’s work on Target’s Web site, it can be located under the home decor section called “World Culture.” Visit here to peruse South African Kuba cloth, “oriental” symbols, Tin Chi Yang charts and more. It’s the stuff that appears to be from, you know, countries out there, for the inner-jetsetter in you. No need to fly, exoticism and luxury are but a leisurely Saturday afternoon drive away at your nearest Target.

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]