RIP, Gwen Stefani?
New art exhibit faux-chronicles the rise and fall of pop queen Gwen Stefani, among other things
“It’s an ersatz museum, set in the future—about 3,000 A.D., or C.E., depending on what you want to call it,” said Bay Area artist Kathy Aoki of her new art installation at Chico State’s University Art Gallery. The Museum of Historical Makeovers—The Tragic Kingdom Period to the Golden Age of Bleaching, as Aoki’s exhibit is playfully called, is a tongue-in-cheek, faux-museum-exhibit populated with artifacts and historical documents (created by Aoki) that chronicle such image-fueled happenings as the reign (and imagined demise) of pop singer Gwen Stefani and her widely known Harajuku Girls.
Aoki’s exhibit, as a UAG press release describes it, “takes on the aesthetics of historical illustration and ancient artifacts, while preserving her favorite themes of gender, beauty and cultural consumerism.” Previous Aoki exhibitions include Champions of Market Street, a San Francisco-based poster project featuring Market Street pedestrians dressed as super-heroes while performing random acts of kindness, and an interactive Political Paper Dolls exhibit commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art as part of its Renegade Humor show earlier this year.
Aoki’s work is also in prestigious collections such as those at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and the Harvard Art Museums.
“There are three main areas of my exhibition,” said Aoki, who is also an associate professor of studio art at Santa Clara University. One features “works from the permanent collection of the ‘museum’—etchings dated to the late 1800s, etchings based on [American realist] Thomas Eakins and Rembrandt paintings. They show beauty procedures, like waxing.”
Another section of her show is made up of faux-“French illustrations showing implements, tools for beauty use, such as creating lower back tattoos—tatouage bas du dos—bottles of ink, needles, etc., and a young lady from the 1700s getting a lower back tattoo,” Aoki said.
“The story is that these illustrations were supposed to be included in [French philosopher Denis] Diderot’s Encyclopedia,” she explained, “but at the time of publication were lost and rediscovered later at an estate sale in Lyons.”
Part three of Aoki’s exhibit is filled with “Gwen Stefani artifacts from her mortuary temple. Among them are the famous ‘Chia Gwen,’ a burial Chia Pet with a pharaoh’s bob and beard. Gwen Stefani was known for wanting to reduce her carbon footprint, so it would make sense that she would want the Chia Pet in the afterlife to grow her own herbs.”
Included in Aoki’s exhibition is the “Brunetti map, a map of burial sites made by a family of mapmakers from the Los Angeles area, which shows where Gwen Stefani and the Harajuku Girls are buried.
“It’s an underwater map,” Aoki said. “It shows the depths of the water [beneath which they are buried] because L.A. was covered over due to global warming.
“I am the curator of the museum,” said Aoki. “So when I give my talk [at the Sept. 5 reception], I’m going to give a curator’s talk—a PowerPoint presentation. And I use, you know, like a laser pointer, and point out connections between the works, and translate hieroglyphics.” Some of the hieroglyphics that appear in her show are “real Egyptian hieroglyphics, and some are fake hieroglyphics from the Tragic Kingdom Period—the period of the rule of Gwen Stefani, when she was the ruler of the pop empire, from 2009 ’til 2061, which is when she dies.”
The “pièce de résistance” of the show, offered Aoki, is the “tomb room—an exhibition room devoted to burial artifacts, including the ‘G-4 Sarcophagus.’
“You can see that if you come to the show,” she added slyly.