IT IS NOW AN OLD TRICK to take a common domestic object and call it art. Duchamp had his readymades, his bottle rack and urinal, Jasper Johns his painted bronze cans of Ballantine beer, Warhol his Brillo boxes and paintings of soup cans. Like them, Los Angeles artist George Stoll works with objects so mundane--in his case, sponges, toilet paper rolls, and Tupperware--that we can't often be expected to take a good look at them. But what ultimately sets his work apart is a simple virtue: beauty.

Stoll's sculptures mimic their models in size, shape, color, and weight. His sponges are made of balsa wood, on which he draws circles and ovals and then carefully drills out the Swiss cheese holes. The Tupperware, here represented by a single group of five juice glasses, is done in a mix of paraffin and beeswax, with raw pigment mixed in to color them. His medium closely matches the vague translucency of classic Tupperware.

What Stoll's pieces don't do is try to convince you for a minute that they are the actual objects they're emulating. In no way does Stoll aim for a machine-like finish in his pieces. The pencil markings are still visible around the pores of the sponges; the waxen Tupperware is imperfectly formed, sometimes slightly wavy, as if the wax slumped slightly before hardening. These are not arbitrarily "arty" touches, however; Stoll makes few expressive choices while creating his works, attempting only to render through handcraft what was originally made by machines.

Stoll calls his pieces drawings and paintings, but some of the drawings and all of the paintings are actually sculptures. He draws a technical distinction between drawing and painting: A set of Tupperware juice glasses is called a drawing--the title is Untitled (5 Cup Sketch #8)--though it is made with wax and dry pigment. The point is that it involves no oil medium, just the dry pigment, and is thus closer to graphite or conte crayon than oil painting. A set of toilet paper rolls, in their paper wrapping (Stoll substitutes silk for the paper), is similarly considered a drawing, as he uses colored pencils to draw the brand logos and packaging information. The painting/sculptures (all of sponges), are, of course, painted. I have no idea why he refuses to simply call them sculptures. He also shows some actual drawings, painstaking renderings of the flat surfaces of various sponges, like the print a sponge would leave on paper if dipped in ink.

When consumer projects are presented as art, a critique of the divide between high and low culture is usually assumed. In simple form, the argument posits that presenting a commonplace object in the high-art context of a museum or gallery increases the value of that object--and isn't that interesting? I suppose putting a Mr. Bubble T-shirt in a Comme des Garçons store would have the same effect, assuming the Mr. Bubble shirt had a $150 price tag on it. More compelling than the economic argument is the consideration of artistic value. But here, too, the argument bogs down in simplistic ideas: A urinal, placed in an exhibition of high art, supposedly challenges the status of every other work it hangs alongside. The implicit claim is that a signed urinal is as worthy of looking at and thinking about as an oil painting, and thus that an oil painting is no more worthy of our attention than a urinal. Everything is dragged to the same level.

Stoll's work doesn't seem quite so cheeky or obvious, but then, neither does the aforementioned artists' work, to me. Duchamp's urinal is a sculpturally interesting, beautiful object, and Warhol's soup cans, which submit heroically to all sorts of readings, can also be seen as an appreciation of the graceful simplicity of those containers' design.

Stoll's objects seem further removed from the consumerist critique of Warhol or Johns. He finds beauty in these simple objects, and accentuates it not through artistic frippery but through elegant materials and careful presentation, through the offhand grace of his carefully constructed forms. It's pop, sure, but it's also pretty.

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