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Columbia Spectator Staff

The perennial exhibition on the evils of consumer culture is too often a staple at galleries, and one I tend to avoid. Most contemporary critiques of consumerism in the art world take themselves much too seriously, demonizing big corporations and herd-mentality label consciousness without contributing much insight aside from "the Man is bad, man." Too often, the output of these socially "engaged" artists lacks the wry amusement that makes someone like Warhol so captivating. Mike Leavitt, using the crunchy, freethinking fashion I've come to expect from Seattleites, restores faith in contemporary art's ability to interrogate pop culture without participating in the same preachy tirade. The highlight of his latest show, "Don't Stop Object Shopping," is a series of impressively accurate cardboard shoe replicas ranging from Air Jordan IVs to something that resembles a Blahnik stiletto. Why to-scale editions of cultural ephemera? Why cardboard? Leavitt seized upon footwear as the inspiration for his new show because he found shoes to encompass a "great balance between pure function and profound identity symbol ... intimately linked to our visual culture." In an interview with Suite101.com's D. Yvette Wohn, the artist explained, "The simple image of the cardboard shoe speaks humorously and clearly on consumerism," citing that in the shoe industry "cheap, disposable material makes an expensive product"—thus calling attention to how his project is "oddly resembling the manufacturing of boutique footwear." It is somewhat difficult to describe Leavitt's overall artistic enterprise. A professed extreme boredom for "normal" art has resulted in his having churned out a number of nonpareil projects that rather resist categorization. In his latest show, a number of his previous projects are on display alongside the cardboard kicks—his famous "Art Army" (a series of action figures depicting a range of historical subjects from Van Gogh to Tupac), "ArtCards" (hand-drawn trading cards of other artists sold in wrapped packs with a stale stick of gum), and sundry Obama-ganda. Though it may not be immediately apparent, the shoe series fits in rather seamlessly with the rest of these projects. Leavitt has grown increasingly concerned with examining consumerism and the current state of the economy. For example, the "Art Army" figures were originally conceived as a satire on the commodification of art, while the "ArtCard" trading cards germinated from his interest in public fascination with so-called collectibles. Leavitt, like so many artists today, grapples with the challenge of making a living with his art in a struggling economy (as a side note, the latest L Magazine—not that I'm the sort to habitually read the magazine—had an interesting feature on the current situation of struggling city artists and the inventive means they've taken to stay afloat). The theme of commercial viability runs through much of his recent work. All told, this most recent exhibition is stimulating enough that its unapologetic gimmickyness doesn't annoy in the least. Lorraine White is a Columbia College junior majoring in French and economics. Gallerease runs alternate Thursdays.v

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