Culture- ART FEATURE- </span>Cultural consumption: Art world collides with worldly art<span class="s1">

"Joyous!" The word kept leaping to mind as I wandered through "Complicit! Contemporary Art and Mass Culture" at the University of Virginia Art Museum. Although the exhibition comes with a hefty intellectual pedigree– springing from Media Arts professor Johanna Drucker's recent book, Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity– I couldn't help thinking curator Drucker's real message is simply (and buoyantly), "Hey, look at all this interesting art!"

Extensive and ambitious (with a capital "A"), "Complicit!" displays work by more than 50 artists who incorporate contemporary mass culture into their art. All the pieces date to the past decade when consumer culture and mass media bombardment made creative resistance not just futile but increasingly meaningless. In response, artists began taking an "if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em" attitude, co-opting the lowbrow everyday as a means to say something new.

Complicit in purveying mass culture– no matter how much they twist and alter it– these artists also demand viewers' complicity because their work depends on our fluency in their visual vernacular. Several of the most fun and interesting pieces on display make our active participation explicit.

To view Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's diorama, "Cabin Fever," requires donning headphones and peering through a small opening cut into an enclosed wooden cabinet. Suddenly, we are standing in wintry woods at night, looking toward a small house— a scene we recognize from countless made-for-TV movies. But this time we're there as peeping-Tom voyeurs. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we hear a car pull up beside us and footsteps walking toward the house, where we witness a too familiar, yet still startling drama unfold.

In Alexis Rockman's oversized painting "Seaworld," we become spectators at a marine theme park on a perfectly sunny Florida day. As a jet zips across the sky in the distance, we stare over a glass wall in the foreground (with a suckered tentacle stretching menacingly over its edge) onto an aquarium... of monstrous creatures unexpectedly prehistoric and mutant. What has happened here? We know this set-up, yet we don't know it at all.

In some respects, "Complicit!" is overly ambitious. Artist interviews are available on iPods on-site and as podcasts on the Web– a great idea!– but sharp editing could have pared down the overlong 12-20 minute discussions. Plus, the file names on the accompanying CD catalog are confusing (instead visit the website for the same information: virginia.edu/artmuseum/complicit/). 

Nevertheless, "Complicit!" is exuberant, fresh, and must-see!

"Complicit! Contemporary Art and Mass Culture" is on view at the University of Virginia Art Museum through October 29. A "Complicit! Symposium" featuring panel discussions and a guest lecture by The New Yorker's art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, is scheduled for October 6-7. 155 Rugby Road. 924-3592.