WASHINGTON, D.C. — Joshua Yospyn’s “Ronald” is a snapshot of post-industrial capitalism’s everyday toil. It’s a digital photo of some unnamed person wearing a bright yellow outfit and red wig, made-up to look like Ronald McDonald, the fast-food chain’s clown mascot. Only Yospyn doesn’t capture the smiling, happy face of a global business. Instead “Ronald” catches the actor beneath the makeup looking beaten down and spent, eyes squinting in the bright sunlight, exaggerated red lips and mouth agape. The image is a candid moment in a service-industry worker’s shift representing the corporate brand. And if there’s any single image that provides an instant philosophical précis to Locally Sourced, up through March 15 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C., it’s “Ronald.”
The photo is one of the more than 200 works included in Locally Sourced, which is an introduction to six Community Supported Art (CSA) programs around the country: Artist Curated Projects in Los Angeles; Brooklyn Community Supported Art + Design in New York; Cannonball in Miami; Pelican Bomb in New Orleans; Threewalls in Chicago; and the nonprofit arts organization Transformer in Washington, D.C. It is the first of four planned exhibits in a two-year project called Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From?, a curatorial collaboration between Victoria Reis, the co-founder and executive/artistic director of Transformer, and Tim Doud, Associate Professor of Art and coordinator of American University’s Visiting Artists Program. The goal is to showcase how CSAs — art organizations, borrowing a page from sustainable agriculture cooperatives, that advocate supporting local artists through low-cost subscriptions to their work — are developing and experimenting with different models of art organizing, exhibiting, and audience engagement.
The goal isn’t simply to connect artists as commodity manufacturers with potential buyers in a geographic area; it’s to explore the roles artists and arts organizations might play in their communities. In an email exchange, co-curator Reis says the exhibition series was inspired by the 2014 creation of Common Field, a network of about 25 artist-run and independent arts spaces/organizations around the country. These entities — such as founding members Transformer, Threewalls, Vox Populi in Philadelphia, and Recess in New York — exist not only outside the conventional art galleries, auction houses, and museums axis but in many ways ideologically against the art/secondary art market and affluent collectors that support those institutions. Common Field is a collective of people exploring alternatives to that pipeline, representing artists engaged in a variety of creative labor who are not valued or even recognized by more mainstream or conservative outlets.
That goal is easier to articulate than it is to realize. As an exhibition, Locally Sourced is as hit-and-miss as any large group show, and occasionally has the disorganized sprawl of a MFA thesis show, with works from a variety of genres and sensibilities hung in close proximity. It features anything from two-dimensional prints, paintings, and book illustrations to digital installations, sculpture, and audio. The subject matter is just as all over the place, from Ian Cooper’s “Torso,” a cotton long-sleeved petite shirt that, if worn, would give the wearer the cartoonish physique of a circus strongman, to conceptual sculptures such as Molly-Zuckerman-Hartung’s “The Value of a Dollar,” two dollar bills glued together and purchased by the artist for $2 each, with provenance papers to authenticate its ownership.
The works are grouped by CSA, and the sheer volume of them makes for a great deal to digest in a single visit. As an immersive experience to what CSA artists are thinking about and working on, however, the exhibition makes for a fascinating introduction. Displays of irreverent wit abound — Daphne Fitzpatrick’s “Untitled” is a coy scratchboard rendering of a pipe that wittily resembles the thing that is not present in René Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” — and in a few standout cases, as in Yospyn’s “Ronald,” artists directly respond to the monetization of everyday life.
Jillian Mayer’s “Beach Babe Aims to Please” is a calm middle finger to the online numbers game of page views. This roughly one-minute video loop features a young woman emerging from the ocean at the beach. Wearing a black bikini, she walks out of the water, approaches the camera, and disappears offscreen, only to shortly return to dive back in. When she first emerges from the water she’s swarmed by a number of black arrow pointers of a computer mouse, as if some unseen number of viewers were trying to click on her body at once. When she disappears offscreen, the pointers vanish as well, only to flock to her body once again when she returns. The woman doesn’t appear to be aware of the pointers. “Aims to Please” literalizes the clickbait objectification of the female form as the attack and creepily invasive practice that it is.
“Beach Babe Aims to Please” is but one instance here that shows CSA artists thinking through current issues and ideas, demonstrating a degree of political awareness. No other artist in Locally Sourced does that with as much impudence, but there is enough restlessness in the included works to suggest a cheeky streak running through the CSAs gathered here. Irreverence alone never disrupts the conventional art market, but it could be a refreshing step toward forming alternative audiences — and economies — for artists.
Locally Sourced continues at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center through (4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC) March 15.