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Jean Lowe

American, b. 1960

Overstock!
2009

Enamel on wood panel
95.5 x 84 in. (242.57 x 213.36 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2009.17

San Diego painter Jean Lowe had addressed the visual language of consumerism previously, particularly with her lumpy papier-mâché books, painted with slick, smooth enamel, bearing satirical titles like Militant Feminist Veganism for All and Torture Preparedness. But with her 2009 exhibit Love for Sale she made a dramatic leap in scale, medium, and conceptual complexity. Overstock! is typical of that group of very large panel paintings, which were the artist’s first traditionally formatted artworks. Each of them conflates extravagant baroque and rococo interiors with the equally overwhelming vernacular visual display of contemporary big-box retail outlets like Costco.

With this simple recontextualization, Lowe unleashes a many-layered commentary on visual culture past and present, while simultaneously offering up an unabashed feast of sumptuous hand-painted pop. Forgoing the precisionism of Warhol, Lowe’s loose but confident brushwork (still deploying the shiny, opaque enamel paint) is more in the Manet ballpark, yielding up greater aesthetic pleasures the longer and more closely the viewer engages with the work. Similarly, the layers of humor and critical commentary embedded in this anachronistic hybrid unfold over time. The initial absurdity of stacks of fabric softener, paper plates, Barbie dolls, and small appliances occupying architectural spaces that positively drip with upper-class elitist connoisseurship is also laugh-out-loud funny.

But the longer you look, the less out of place the sparkling housewares appear, and the more similar the innocuous come-ons of their wrappers seem to the decorative gewgaws adorning the vaulted palaces. Finally we recognize a deeper irony: that the modernism from which Lowe’s work derives, and the Enlightenment ideal of democratic abundance from which contemporary consumerism devolved, were both reactions to the very culture of narcissistic gluttony that rococo big-box architecture had come to symbolize. What goes around comes around.

Doug Harvey


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