High Fructose Corn Syrup

Artist Christopher Chiappa lines gallery walls with garbage bags, dresses upside-down, and covers a basketball with corn

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NYC-based artist Christopher Chiappa’s first solo show in eight years, “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” boldly explores themes of cultural degradation, anxiety and industrialized sweeteners. Now on view at NYC’s Kate Werble Gallery through 10 April 2010, the show includes a variety of media, including photography, sculpture and video to describe a personal narrative on the loss of innocence. Chiappa notes, “It’s sort of all a big self-portrait somehow, from the obvious pieces that have me in them, to the other pieces that are more philosophical self-portraits. The over-arching connection for me, is me.” (“I Always New It Would Come To This,” 2010, pictured right)

A self-confessed Coke addict, Chiappa uses the brand’s 1985 transition from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup as a thematic foil to these personal explorations, noting, “It’s kind of how I see history, the way things degrade. New rules get made, and the new norm always seems to be some sad reflection of the old norm.” While the artist admits that equating himself with high fructose corn syrup is something of a self-annihilating strategy, the subsidized sweetener makes an apt symbol for the disappointments in life.

Chiappa obliterates the purity of a white gallery space, seemingly at odds with this theme, by sheathing the entire gallery in sheets of black plastic garbage bags to a somewhat shocking effect. Some works surge into view (like the highlighter-yellow “Cornball,” a statement on America’s corn gluttony), while others become dangerously hidden in plain sight (such as a sculpture of cartoonishly-sized ice skate blades). The latter piece—heavily laden with conflicting notions of violence and utility, aggression and poetic expression—heightens a creeping sense of dread brought on by the black plastic environs. Desensitized as we are to the endless parade of art today, the feeling is oddly refreshing.