Art Review: Kevin Donegan, Flynndog Gallery | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Art Review: Kevin Donegan, Flynndog Gallery


Published September 15, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 27, 2021 at 2:04 p.m.

Shopping-cart icon - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Shopping-cart icon

Even before seeing Kevin Donegan's exhibition of mixed-media assemblages, you might deduce its theme from the title: "Your Cart Is Empty." Did you guess that the artist is concerned with rampant consumerism? The thoughtlessness of our gotta-have-it-now culture? (Click!) Or maybe the waste, the environmental cost? All are correct.

The phrase "Your cart is empty" will be familiar to anyone who has ever made an online purchase. Though ostensibly a neutral statement of fact, it can feel like a virtual taunt: An empty cart threatens retail FOMO.

Donegan's exhibition, which opened last week at Flynndog Gallery in Burlington, addresses a generative topic: what we acquire and what we throw away. But he also confronts viewers with a more nuanced sense of squandering. Using the spare iconography of shopping carts, recycling bins and trash cans and the "medium" of detritus, Donegan has assembled a reflective, provocative exhibition. The metamorphosis of found materials is ingenious.

In fact, your first thought upon entering the Flynndog is likely to be Wow. About a dozen assemblages — dominated by pieces and permutations of actual shopping carts — sit on the floor, hang from the walls and are suspended from way above eye level. Some images are painted right on the wall in latex. Others involve a great deal of wrapping: Think Christo meets yarn bomber.

"Your Cart Is Empty" makes you look, look again and see things differently.

Not a standard white-box gallery, the Flynndog is a long, wide hall with a soaring ceiling and a lingering aura of the building's industrial past. A number of studio doorways punctuate its west side, and the hall itself is a corridor to Nomad Coffee at the other end. This is a functional space with quotidian foot traffic. Donegan's installation works creatively with both its limitations and advantages — in part by going high.

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "No, No, No, Yes"

Entering the gallery, viewers might not even notice the 30-gallon plastic bin overhead, tipped to spill out a mass of colored yarn. (Donegan titles this "Hard.) But it's impossible to miss the revamped street sign angling out from the wall that demands, "No Shopping This Side of Street."

At intervals along the wall near the ceiling, Donegan has painted large shopping-cart icons in dark-gray latex. Underscoring the theme, a big red zero is placed inside the cart baskets. The simple line drawing, with two dots for wheels, is consistent with the symbolism of public communication.

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Purple Heart"

Some pieces pair wall painting with a three-dimensional component. For "Exhausted," Donegan painted a black parallelogram on the wall and added a rusted, rectangular grate at one end; the smashed basket of a red shopping cart protrudes outward. Two thick chains hang from the rear of the structure. The result is a minimalist abstraction with an appealing contrast of colors, textures and angles.

Donegan's use of found materials counters a consumerist ethos, of course; he declares in his artist's statement that all the carts and other objects were found abandoned around Burlington — including near railroad tracks. In some works, he lets the discarded object just be itself, such as the rusted cart chassis parked next to a wall painting of the missing basket. Other pieces are meticulously wrapped with yarn. Something about the obsessiveness of the effort and the soft materiality instantly confers sculpture status on this debris.

"Mangled, Mummified #2" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Mangled, Mummified #2"

The most remarkable — and labor-intensive — wrapped piece is titled "No, No, No, Yes." It consists of a large, intact cart, every inch of which is covered in layers of off-white yarn. Placed higher than eye level on Donegan's hand-built wooden "dumpster," the piece commands both attention and admiration.

Two iterations of smashed cart legs and wheels are aptly titled "Mangled, Mummified" — "#1" is encircled in off-white yarn, "#2" in black. The vertically oriented "#1" stands atop a found-wood, white-painted trash receptacle; a person icon painted on the side holds out one arm in a discarding gesture.

  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "City"

Donegan placed "#2" on his hand-built version of a recycling bin. The black-wrapped, crumpled metal has a recumbent form and looks oddly relaxed.

The anthropomorphizing is flagrant in "City," a cart with legs and wheels removed. Donegan set the basket on a wooden structure that suggests a person on hands and knees. A pair of leather work gloves at the front and chukka boots at the back leave no doubt as to the meaning.

"Re-e-valu-ate" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • "Re-e-valu-ate"

Adjacent to "City," a wall-hung piece titled "Re-e-valu-ate" also eschews subtlety, but it's cleverly constructed. A rectangle of plywood is cut and hinged in a way that allows it to fold over itself diagonally. One side is painted to look like a $5 bill; on the other, white-painted negative space defines an unpainted human torso and manacled hand.

These pieces, placed at the back of the gallery, unnecessarily hammer Donegan's bound-by-capitalism point. Still, they don't overshadow the exhibition's many works that prod viewers to think, question and wonder. "Your Cart Is Empty" is rife with messages, and one of them is: Look at our capacity for transformation.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Junk Status"

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