Current Space's art market — literally

The intersection of art and commerce has always been a dangerous spot. It gets extra slippery at a cheeky exhibit at Current Space, the ever-funky gallery that has staked out an oasis on an otherwise development-shy block of Howard Street.

Titled "CART," this show occupies a room of the gallery that has been turned into a mini-mart environment, with neatly packed aisles of merchandise from more than 60 artists. Near the cashier, there are shopping baskets and a stack of point-of-sale items.

The food in this mart may not be edible, but it sure is cute. You'll find soft sculpture donuts by Baltimore artist Ginevra Shay at $9.99 apiece; "Tasty Kake Pie" cartons by Baltimorean Gary Kachadourian at 33 cents; and shrink-wrapped, bite-sized, vaguely familiar objects on Styrofoam trays, the work of the Baltimore duo of Amanda D'Amico and Phuong Pham, priced at $25.

The meat counter gives one pause. Bonnie Brenda Scott, a Philadelphia-based artist, has prepared rather scary packages of "100 Percent Pure Fantasy Meat" ($65).

Those packages are near a bunch of sweet little stuffed animal toys that would be perfectly innocuous, were it not for the title of the display, "Sentenced Animals," and the way that Florida artist Lindsey Wollard has boldly marked parts of their bodies: "Chops," "Pate," "Veal," etc.

One shelf is loaded with standard-sized vegetable cans by Massachusetts artist Jeffu Warmouth. The colorfully detailed labels on this line of $9.99 products promises some decidedly off-the-beaten-path taste sensations: "Bartlett Ears," "Pure Drained Self-Esteem," "Rolled Eyeballs," and "Forked Tongue." There's even a can marked "Hair," which ought to be a big seller.

The concept behind the CART exhibit, which runs through Sept. 4, is as clever as the execution. Organizers took as their cue government statistics showing that the typical American shops for groceries roughly twice a week. In a statement summarizing the show, Current Space co-director Monique Crabbe writes:

Art "remains extraordinarily undervalued by mainstream American society, which is almost solely focused on the seemingly endless cycle of labor and consumption … Current Gallery is positing that art is not optional, but essential ... and it should therefore be considered as fundamental to our daily lives as the products we purchase at grocery stores every week."

The CART exhibit might be viewed as inanimate performance art. The space, which looks at first glance so familiar and functional, practically vibrates with humor and invites a level of interaction that goes beyond the usual look-see. The more you explore, the more you get nicked with points about the commercialization of our lives and of art.

Among the real zingers in this art mart is a pile of "Two Nearly Identical Bob Ross Style Oil Paintings," each pair of canvases wrapped tightly together and priced at $20.

This entry from Baltimore's Nick Peelor gently skewers the late, gentle-voiced host and instructor on the "Joy of Painting" PBS series and the public's appetite for cheap, insipid, motel lobby-ready landscapes. Such paintings are often sold on gas station lots; finding them inside this make-believe mini-mart gives the joke an extra kick.

Commonly seen objects come in for novel treatment here. The Christmas tree-shaped air freshener that dangles from many a rear-view mirror, for example, is transformed by Pennsylvania artist Vincent Romaniello into a huge, suspended sculpture titled "Bull Deodorizer." It looks like something Andy Warhol might have thought of during his soup can phase.

Manian E. Chettle, a Langley Park artist, has assembled "Instant Assimilation," a rack of notions ready to be put in your kitchen drawer — pull tabs, bread package tags, plastic choking hazards ("not suitable for children under 29 years of age"), and a mixed bag of condoms and condiment packets (the various wrappers create a surprisingly homogenous look).

Canadian Robert Pasternak taps a similar vein with oddball items, including used cigarette butts packaged as a kids' toy with a military theme (the pictured GI has a cigarette dangling from his mouth), and an abstract blob of paint remarketed as "Artist Palette Remains."

No mini-mart would be complete without printed products. Here, taking up a good part of an aisle, is a diverse and absorbing assortment of art in various print forms, including magazines, photo albums and comic books (some of the adults-only variety — just like at certain mini-marts).

Tongue-in-cheek and provocative, the CART show puts a fresh new spin on one-stop shopping.

If you go

The "CART' exhibit is open noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 4 at Current Space, 421 N. Howard St. Free. Go to