Designing art exhibitions as parodies or détournements of traditional museum practice has been so popular in recent years that even museums themselves have got into the act (although without satirical intent, taking revisionist cross-disciplinary looks at their permanent collections). These shows, which invoke the aristocratic European Wunderkammer or cabinet des merveilles, cost relatively little to produce and unearth rarely exhibited artifacts, so they can make for great viewing if done with a light hand and unencumbered by excessive theoretical or polemical baggage.
Artist and gallerist Pete Glover does just that in his impressive, funny, and touching one-man archaeological excavation into commercial Americana — what Philip Guston lovingly called “crapola.” Junk Pirate is a museological version of the thrift-shop-treasure ‘zines that Glover has been publishing for years. Found objects, of course, have a long history in the modernist collage/assemblage tradition; and while vernacular materials were initially shocking in Cubism, Dada/Surrealism, and Pop, with time, the discordant elements become poignant and nostalgic. What Glover does — with his careful, hilarious arrays of water pistols, fridge magnets, anonymous photographs, scribbled lists, audio cassettes, rubber bats, View-Master disks and viewers, tin badges, gameboard markers, play money, game spinners, meal tickets, Joker cards, record sleeves, matchbooks, tickets, coupons, flash cards, X-ray glasses, ursine honey jars, Batman figures, arcade tokens, pencil sharpeners, 3-D glasses, Gumby figures, video-game controllers (entitled “The Slow Dissipation of Technology”), LiveStrong rubber bracelets, bread clips, popcorn bags, wind-up toys, and postcards — is resurrect mass-market cultural history from the Sixties through the Eighties (with a few exceptions), a period that is now starting to look, amazingly, historic. Some favorites: “Mini-Kins,” a chart of child mannequin models; a printed brown-paper lunch bag for junior space explorers; “Portrait of a Young Star-Trek Fan”; a coloring-book page captioned “Rambo Meets a Giant Ape!”; a set of 1970s California drivers’ licenses; a jar of pencil shavings; an effusive thank-you note asking, “May I come in and sing your praises?;” an acceptance letter from the Famous Artists School; and Scratch ‘n’ Sniff stickers (try them all!). This, this is your life.
Special events (including dice rolls to determine art prices) on First Friday, July 2; tea and artist’s talk on Saturday, July 3, 3-6 p.m. Junk Pirate runs through July 4 at The Compound Gallery (1167-65th St., Oakland). 510-655-9019 or TheCompoundGallery.com