Land of the Free [Speech]: Cole Sternberg on America, Consumerism, and Humanity

Cole Sternberg’s latest show, strip mall shopping center outlet mall mall of america, highlights American consumption on the same plane as George Romero’s zombie flicks–it’s chosen to focus on upscale malls flecked with women who “drive up in their SUVs,” the heart of American expenditure. Unlike Romero’s work, though, Sternberg’s setting is literal.

His show at Caruso Art, is actually set within a strip mall, complete with high fashion stores and shop girls. In good form, the show asserts itself as both a commentary against, and a part of, America’s greatest mystique–the mindless acquisition of products at the cost of something much more dear: self-worth.

The gallery itself plays a part in Sternberg’s commentary on consumerism. Even before one enters Caruso, one becomes part of the action. Sternberg splays text across the exterior of the building that both condemns (and hails) the rise of expense and materialism in popular culture. This theme of the popular versus the individual–particularly our common reliance on money and spending as a means of communication and “worth”–expands and develops throughout the exhibit.

Once inside, visitors are greeted by an American Flag–here tagged with rapper, T.I.’s, catch phrase (and the title of his hit single): “You can have whatever you like”. The scrawling lyrics epitomize Sternberg’s point–without mincing words. In America, it’s no longer about who you know. It’s about what you have.

Indeed, this show forgoes subtlety in favor of the blunt and, we hope, true.

And perhaps it’s this blatant commentary that our country needs most. In a time of manipulative advertising and consumer campaigns, Sternberg’s point resonates loud and clear–if only we’re daring enough to hear it.

strip mall shopping center outlet mall mall of america
Caruso Art
Los Angeles, CA
December 15, 2012-February 9, 2013

Kit Warchol