Exhibition Opening: Thursday, Septmeber 28, 2017, 6:30 p.m. at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, The Wallace Center at RIT, 2nd floor. Refreshments will be served. Free and open to the public. Attendees are invited to letterpress-print their own shopping bags as an activity at the opening.
From Toulouse-Lautrec and the poster, to street art, to Pop Art — artists and designers have tested the limits of what is considered art in an industrial world. Often the limits seem to appear when we reach ephemera. If it can be discarded so easily, if it can be mass-produced again, if everyone has one, then perhaps it isn’t art. But the disposable shopping bag poses a question: what is the difference between an original, a multiple, a print, and a printed bag?
Like most products, the history of the shopping bag as we see it represented in this exhibit is a cycle of invention, patent, and reinvention. This history is populated with grocers, printers, women, people of color, engineers, and designers from all over the world. Between 1852 and 1990 machines, adhesives, designs, plastics, and printing techniques were developed and innovated, resulting in an ever better, cheaper shopping bag. As manufacturing and printing bags became inexpensive, shopping bags became more and more common, with many stores giving them away for free. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, shopping bags attainted a certain ubiquity in many consumer cultures. Their presence in stores, on the streets, and in homes went from practical to symbolic to ideological. Artists and designers both drove and rode that evolution, testing the limits of consumerism and expanding the definition of art.
As you explore this exhibit you will find original work by Rudolph de Harak, Keith Haring, David Hockney, Barbara Kruger, Willi Kunz, Annie Leibovitz, Roy Lichtenstein, Yoko Ono, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, and Andy Warhol. The bags demonstrate innovative technique, shape, material, and message. There are spare bags and busy bags, bags with one-color printing and those bearing quality fine art reproductions, bags made of simple brown paper or made of surprising materials, bags with no text and those with custom typefaces designed to convey an entire brand identity. The bags are also tools, inviting use with form and function. Perhaps, then, you will begin to see the bag as a canvas, a carrier not only for one’s store-bought goods but also for a design message.
J. Scott Patnode is the former director and curator of the Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Mr. Patnode graduated from Gonzaga in 1968 and began teaching there in 1970. He worked as an art professor for many years, teaching, among other things, courses in three-dimensional design (in which he used this collection of shopping bags as a teaching tool). In 1995 he opened the Jundt Art Museum and was its director and curator until his retirement in 2013. Mr. Patnode was an avid collector of shopping bags and literature surrounding the genre and his gift to the Cary Library includes reference and supplemental materials. Mr. Patnode continues to maintain a robust print collection, and resides in Spokane, Washington. This collection is a gift of J. Scott Patnode in memory of Wally and Irene Patnode.
Ella von Holtum, Assistant Archivist and Exhibition Curator