In elementary school, I ate from a doghouse. While my classmates brought their peanut butter and jellies in those iconic metal boxes, I broke ranks with a plastic, yellow, barn-shaped lunchbox that replicated Snoopy's doggie domicile. By high school, however, lunchboxes fell from favor as we collectively chose to brown-bag it.
Today, young people probably only know lunchboxes as ironic accessories for grown-ups with day jobs. ("I may work at a cube farm, but I'm hip enough to carry a Hellboy lunchbox!") Alcove Gallery's Cartoon Madness V: The Lunchbox Show evokes the youthful energy and kitschy design of old-school meal carriers. The Lunchbox Show proves less diverse than the series' previous exhibit, Circus. Here, it feels like most of the participants could've cranked out their contributions over a lunch hour. Nevertheless, Alcove serves the art world equivalent of a tasty snack.
Scores of lunchboxes hang from meat hooks on the gallery's walls. Most works have different designs on either side, and it's OK to touch the art. Many artists take inspiration from the idea of happy foodstuffs (à la those singing, marching concessions from the old "Let's All Go to the Lobby" cartoon). Jay Rogers' "Alimentary School Pals" presents vacuously grinning food and drink items on the front, with the same characters being digested in a stomach on the back.
Most classic lunchboxes served as promotional items for TV shows and forgotten cultural icons. Dave MacDowell's "Jack" crafts a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest tie-in with Jack Nicholson's insolent, ill-shaven face splashed across the front. Other artists take a more personal approach, such as Dirk Hays in "Uncle Daddy and the Kissing Cousins," the name of the local band in which the East Atlanta Tattoo owner plays. Appropriately, the work is a primitive, canteen-like container with a wooden handle and a leering, overall-wearing beaver on the side. Extra points go to artists who extend their concept to the lunchbox's thermos: for "Uncle Daddy," Hays provides a XXX moonshine jar. Hays' "Hitler Youth Reich" features cherubic Nazi tots, a container marked "Kraut-in-a-Can" and holds the thermos in place with a length of barbed wire.
Most of the exhibits' lunchboxes appear completely functional, but the most memorable pieces push the concept beyond the simple ability to transport sandwiches. Woody Bowen's acrylic on metal "Goldie Box & the 3 Bears" depicts a terrorized, huge-eyed Goldilocks on the front, with cartoony bear monsters attached to the exterior, and the whole thing covered with scratches. John Fesken's "Rat Salad" presents a ghoulish lunchbox covered with greenish moss. Turn a crank and a grim reaper pops from the top as the lid reveals a haunting meal scene worthy of a horror movie cottage.
For "Crunch Time," Russ Vick turns a lunchbox into the wide-jawed face of a monster with rubbery limbs. Perhaps the most elaborate, gizmo-laden item of all is Trish Chenard of Blast-Off Burlesque's "Kaiser Robot of the Food Freedom Fighters 2138," which converts the lunchbox into the chest of a rusted robot constructed largely of kitchenware and found objects.
One piece stands out from the painted metal boxes, however. Paul Leroy's "Sack of Anarchy" presents a crumpled, stylized brown bag streaked with red (almost like a melting candle). Leroy's piece hints at the anarchic impulses of adolescence as well as the end of the Golden Age of the lunchbox. The Lunchbox Show satisfies and it's fun to imagine having Richie Rich-like funds to buy out Alcove and carry a different box each week.
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