Into Space at the Corcoran

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is several blocks from the Air & Space Museum. But visiting artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro had space in mind when they were asked to create their first U.S. installation there.

Thinking of space, and space travel, they created a gallery full of planets representing the Top 10 top selling grocery items – in enough bulk to provide a 3,800-calorie per day diet to fuel a 520-day round trip to Mars.

It’s almost as interesting to find out what the Top 10 grocery items are as it is to see them all grouped together, like those old grocery store pyramids that grocery stores no longer assemble.

The work, “Are We There Yet?” is made out of 97 boxes of 3 liter Black Box Chardonnay, 360 cans of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli, 83 cases of Bud Light, 624 cans of Carnation Evaporated Milk, 43 twinpack boxes of Cheerios, 95 cases of Coca Cola, 40 loaves of Velveeta, 49 boxes of Saltines, 25 cases of Marlboro Red cigarettes, 41 containers of Utz Cheese Balls.

The shock of the big masses of American food eluded me; but only because I’m used to going to the funhouse of warehouse grocery stores.

I admit I did feel a little freaked out the first time I went to one of those places: too. All the oversized tomato cans, enough to last you until well past the expiration date; the mattress sized bundles of toilet paper, the giant sized everything. The Utz cheese balls, in their huge water-cooler sized canisters were always so funny looking I’d come close to buying them for sheer comic effect.

But the first time there I was so rattled I wouldn’t even complete a sale and went around to quietly put everything back and flee.

In the installation, the astronaut in the space suit must feel a little woozy at the overindulgence in the assembled foods. He’s lying under the covers (on a bed laying on more cases of Coke), crumpled beer cans and cigarettes all around him.

A more incendiary aspect of the Healy and Cordeiro show is downstairs, in their 3D collection of Lego paintings that look at first to be striking abstracts.

What they turn out to be are those indelible, curling plumes from the Challenger explosion. The title of the series, “Where We’ve Been and We’re We’re Going, Why” is taken from Gauguin’s painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going” from 114 years ago. But it also “echoes the name of a lesson plan prepared by Christa McAuliffe,” the New Hampshire teacher to perished in the 1986 explosion.

If you can wrap your mind around a Lego-depiction of such a tragedy, you can only imagine what other national horror could be transmitted in children’s toys by crafty artists. Unabomber’s cabin in Lincoln Logs? Kennedy Assassination on Etch a Sketch? 9/11 in Lite Brite?  You are limited only by your imagination or bad taste.

There are some boards set up at the Cocoran so kids can make their own Lego drawings. How about the DC Sniper?

“Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro: Are We There Yet?” continues at the Corcoran gallery of Art in Washington D.C. through March 11.

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