For Soap Factory director Ben Heywood, what’s most surprising about the installation of Crowd Pleaser — Ukrainian artist Nataliya Slinko’s giant steelwool rendering of Karl Marx’s beard — is how few visitors seem to recognize it. The Soap and the Walker Art Center are currently doing their parts to refresh the cultural memory about the famed facial hair and ideas of the German socialist philosopher and Marxism’s namesake.
Slinko’s piece — which is part of a larger installation that includes a crude machine that pounds a shoe heel on a podium, Krushchev-style, and a display of work implements like shovels melded with fabricated bricks and bread — is part of the current exhibition Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Teng, Slinko. Slinko’s work hearkens back to her life growing up in the waning days of the Soviet Union. Writes Heywood in an email to Eyeteeth, “The whole project is about working through the memories of the material culture of her childhood and teenage years. In that way the emptiness and façadism of a steelwool Marx beard reads quite easily, as does the title; something to please the masses.”
At the Walker, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes is shooting the video series Baby Marx in the galleries and the Walker environs. The premise: “The founders of communism and capitalism, Karl Marx and Adam Smith, have been brought to the future by way of a glitch-prone Smart-O-Wave magic microwave oven.” The first two scenes (below) have surprisingly funny and incisive moments: Puppet Marx unimpressed by the Marxist notion of Warhol’s 16 Jackies being created at The Factory, for instance, and a deadpan quip about Facebook and the lineup of Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ mugs.
Circling back to Heywood’s note that few in the younger generation that makes up the Soap Factory’s core audience know much about Marx, Reyes’ project has an instructive mission as well: According to the Walker’s description, Baby Marx is playing with the “potential for mass entertainment to operate as a radical educational tool.”Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Teng, Slinko is on view at the Soap Factory through Oct. 23. Baby Marx is on view at the Walker through Nov. 27.