Art in America,
Heidi Cody at Roebling Hall
Heidi Cody, in time honored Pop fashion, makes art about advertising. For an earlier Roebling Hall group exhibition, she showed light boxes picturing such products as Tide and Gleem, grouped together so that their brand names created haiku. This time, for her first solo show, "Branded," she offered another light box project – an American Alphabet based on the first letters in some familiar product logos.
The 26 letters, in 28-inch-square light boxes, hung in alphabetical order around the gallery walls, their brilliant colors and Plexiglas sheen looking decidly Minimalistic. The project recalled other artist's alphabets – most notably a set of paintings by Robert Cottingham, their images culled from the facades of American downtowns.
To create her alphabet, produced in an edition of 6, Cody scanned product labels into her computer and digitally manipulated them until they were all roughly the same size. She isolated each initial within a square of its primary background color, keeping the file low resolution to eliminate the benday dots. The files were developed as transclucent Lambda Duratrans prints and laminated onto clear Plexiglas.
By effectively equalizing the letters, Cody focuses attention on the original graphic design. The memorable "V" in V8 turns out to be a strangley simple affair – a black character thinly shadowed with green .Yet the "O" in Oreo is vastly more complex – a concentric gathering of cannily drawn oval rings, tipped over onto its right side. Her letters retained odd elements from the original packaging materials: while the yellow ground behind "M" (from Peanut M & Ms) looks like nothing but translucent plastic, the brown letter itself is striped with fine horizontal lines – a reminder that it was once printed on glossy laid paper.
Though some of the letters were readily recognizable, others were harder to figure out; in fact, for a few days after seeing the show, I found myself gazing at products in grocery stores. Surely, that's Pop's truest goal: to make the viewer seek out art in everyday life. And some of the letters came freighted with art references already – like the Campbell's "C," which inevitably recalls Andy Warhol, and the green and white "Z" from Zest, made with an air-brushed looking faux brushstroke, with looks remarkably like a Roy Lichtenstein.
The show included three sculptures replicating unmarked packets of sweetener at vastly larger-than-life size. Cody carved them out of urethane and polystyrene foam, coated them with primer or plaster and painted them blue, pink and white. Two hung from the ceiling and one slumped against a pillar, looking so dull that the point was lost. However, they didn't detract from the soul of this show: that smart Pop alphabet.