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American Values American Pride: A Pre-Election Primer

At Art Under Ground Studio through Dec. 2

By J. Bowers | Posted 11/29/2006

American Values American Pride: A Pre-Election Primer is an ambitious and promising title for any art show, especially one at Hampden's fledgling Art Under Ground Studio, located underneath the Avenue's Pearl Gallery. Unfortunately, while in keeping with the gallery's "anything goes, everyone's welcome" aesthetic, the work is largely on-par with projects from a junior-high art class--employing magic markers, tempera paint, pictures sliced out of magazines, and other everyday materials in rather amateurish, predictable ways. M Wiggs' "American Values" series amounts to a wall full of American flags, KKK figures, dollar bills, guns, and other trite, often collaged images, accompanied by captions such as "Mommy, Why Don't They Tax Rich People?" and "Daddy, What Is Torture?" Red tempera paint stands in for blood, and there's a recurring money motif, including a tree with--gasp!--cut-up dollar bills standing in as leaves. Though Wiggs takes great pains to relate his work to current events, nothing about this series, or his technique, feels fresh or unique. There are a few cheap laughs to be had--a map of North America labels Mexico as "Lawn Care Specialists" and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as "Fish"--but that's about all.

Megan Hildebrandt's installation addressing the perennial problem of urban blight--run-down structures and detritus in cityscapes--is slightly more on-point. Hildebrandt collects fallen foil banners from a Baltimore car lot and repackages them as "Blight Beautification Quik Fix Kits" and "Urban Aesthetic Basics: Charm City Confetti Cures"--little packages of trash designed to be strewn on people's lawns and houses. High-concept, to be sure, but you wonder why Hildebrandt would suggest the ironic spreading of urban blight by-products as a solution to the equally unsightly genuine article. Her paintings, done in watercolor on tracing paper, then cut up and assembled on white backgrounds, feature kitelike strings of brightly colored car-lot banners, whimsically floating through cityscapes. There are visual nods to hanging laundry and Tibetan prayer flags, but as with Hildebrandt's installation, it's difficult to understand why she would make the very thing she's ostensibly trying to protest against the most attractive, central image of her work.

A visit to Art Under Ground's painfully low-ceilinged exhibit space is akin to attending an art show in your grandmother's basement--and the same hodgepodge aesthetic applies to the pieces on offer. While the gallery's democratic approach is admirable, the quality of the work on offer, coupled with the artists' nigh-obsessive fear of "censorship," makes you wonder whether some level of jurying might benefit the space.

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