Stepping into Jean Lowe’s Encinitas studio isn’t exactly like stepping into a dream world, but it’s damn close. It is filled with spectacular stage-style painted artwork and papier-mâché pieces. Look up and you might spot ornamental vases adorned with the Coors logo. A close examination of the books on a shelf actually reveals that they are painted renderings with tongue-in-cheek titles.
At one point during our interview, I almost sat down on a sofa that is being built especially for Lowe’s new solo show at the Quint Gallery in La Jolla.
“No, no, I’m fine,” she said as I apologized profusely. “It’s actually functional. Or it will be.
She goes on to explain that the sofa, when finished, will serve as a kind of sleeping area for “Swank,” which opened Saturday at Quint Gallery. Threading the needle between pop, conceptual and installation art, Lowe will take gallery space and make it look like a car dealership, with magazines, signs and even reproduced drinks created by the artist. ‘artist.
“There will also be real drinks, of course,” Lowe says, right after showing me a painted facsimile of a vintage “Cigar Aficionado.” magazine, with a cartoonish portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover.
On Saturday and October 9, during the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, Quint staff will also serve as representatives or rather car salespeople, greeting customers as potential customers, which adds a performative aspect to the show. There will also be an additional actress on the street to, as Lowe puts it, “attract” festival-goers to the gallery/dealer. Additionally, there will be paintings of her husband, artist Kim MacConnel, on the wall, and made to look like what you would see in a real car dealership. Also on the walls will be video loops that Lowe collaborated on with artist Lile Kvantaliani that she says are “based on the kind of bullshit you see in waiting rooms.”
And while Lowe has done double exposures with MacConnel in the past, “Swank” will mark the first time she’s collaborated with so many people.
“It’s really fun for me. I’ve never had so much collaboration, but they’re into it,” Lowe says. “What’s fun is that ambiguity and also letting go of control a bit.”
With that, we both look at the centerpiece of the show, the nearly completed “Swank Tank.” It’s a sculptural scale duplication of a Hummer EV SUV, General Motors’ recently announced reboot of the flashy, gas-guzzling “supertruck” the company has reintroduced as an eco-friendly electric vehicle. environment. The 18-foot Hummer is constructed from cardboard and accented with some of Lowe’s signature materials, such as papier-mache and paint. As imposing and bulbous as it is in Lowe’s studio, the Swank Tank is designed to be easily taken apart and rebuilt at Quint, and yet, as it is now, it’s still majestic despite its wacky intentions.
“It was difficult to make something that was both strong, but also could be taken apart,” explains Lowe. “But it’s really just a shell, there really isn’t much going on inside. There are drywall screws that make them fit together.
The genesis of the project came when the Quint team approached her about doing something they could debut at the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival. Something that would have a street component for the gallery’s festival stand, as well as an indoor gallery component.
“I’m pretty much a literalist, so my mind immediately went to kind of a streetcar,” Lowe recalls before admitting that “Swank” has now moved beyond any kind of literalist. “The show is definitely about the issues that I’ve been dealing with in different ways.”
This careful consideration of consumer issues is something of a style that Lowe has honed throughout his decades-long career.
She says she has “lost count” of the number of exhibitions she has done in Quint spaces over the years, with previous ones examining everything from how men portray women in art (” POW!” from 2020) to big-box stores (“Hey Sexy from 2012!”). More recently, she just released “Your Place in the Multiverse: Jean Lowe,” her first career survey of the work of the past 20 years. The exhibit — which included everything from paintings and sculptures to installations and video work — first debuted at Utah State University’s Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art before ending at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach.
“I think we’ve all had our content from the beginning, from childhood, and some are lucky enough to figure out how to exploit it,” says Lowe, who began creating artistic renderings of things like furniture as he was attending UC. San Diego in the late 80s. “So I’ve always been interested in the power things have over us and what they signal about us. How value is assigned to things, and in the art world, that always seems a bit arbitrary.
Lowe is interested in examining ways of representing everyday life, the hypocrisies we live in while navigating a constant bombardment of late capitalism. Sure, on the surface, her work is a brilliant combination of consumerist tendencies and self-improvement marketing, but it’s also tender, empathetic and, most importantly, fun.
With roots in German Dadaism, Lowe has described his work as “conceptual-decorative”, but “Swank” seems more blatant, almost brutalist in nature. It’s certainly intentional, but as with all of Lowe’s work, there’s a playful, almost cosmological presentation that leaves the viewer smiling through self-examination.
“I’m interested in doing work that challenges assumptions about things that we don’t usually think about,” says Lowe. “I think you could say that with my works, I try to reframe what is given to me. In all areas and in all work, I want to take something we know so well and make you think differently.
Still, the fact that a reception for the show will be held during the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, a perennial event in what is a very affluent neighborhood, is worth mentioning. Lowe plays down any kind of overt subversiveness when it comes to “Swank,” but admits the concepts explored on the show might be lost on some viewers — those, for example, who might be on the waitlist for a vehicle that she describes as “a blatant display of wealth and benevolence.
“It’s always fine with me if the work is over their heads, because it’s fun and there’s more to discover if they’re in the mood,” says Lowe.
I then ask her what exactly she hopes will be the main takeaway for someone entering “Swank”.
“A good time,” she said evenly. “Aesthetic pleasure.”
John Lowe: “Swank”
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday. Until November 28. Artist’s Reception, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. October 8, during the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival
Where: Quint Gallery, 7655 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
Call: (858) 454-3409
On line: quintgallery.com
Combs is a freelance writer.