Juan Ortiz-Apuy at Owens Art Gallery, Sackville

Stepping into Juan Ortiz-Apuy’s exhibition Fountain Mist at the Owens Art Gallery feels like you’re stepping into a sleek modern laboratory where consumerism and desire are distilled to their essential colours, forms, and origins. The Costa Rica-born, Montreal-based artist takes the vernacular of advertising and removes any allusion to branding. Popular cleaning products with the labels removed become beautiful, brightly coloured vases. Stock advertising images gain new meaning when their commercial text is removed. Everything is at once high-keyed and sexual, but also sterile, cool, and clinical. There is a magical alchemy of opposites at play in this bizarre lab and the results might be surprising.

Juan Ortiz-Apuy, Garden Party, 2018, inkjet print

In the center of the room is a classic Ikea storage system that has been deconstructed and reconfigured to create a pristine multi-layered display unit. On each plane of the unit are placed simple forms of household products. On the gallery walls are largescale collages which also use the bright colours and stock images of advertising. A pyramid of generic spray paint cans is stacked in front of an enormous decal of an orange liquid splash. An even larger decal of an upside-down spray bottle lid floats high above the show. An elegant and unusually slender eggplant placed in a beautiful lavender vase leaves no question that there is an underlying inherent erotism at play here.

On the one hand, this erotism has been so thoroughly aestheticized as to give the objects on display a sterile and unnatural aura that leads one to ponder how capitalism repackages our desires and sells them back to us sanitized and clean. One the other hand, the mischievous alchemy of the show is that, unhindered by logos or labels, these images and objects have a sort of playful freedom – as if they might just have a mysterious life of their own.

Juan Ortiz-Apuy: Fountain Mist continues until March 6.
Owens Art Gallery: https://www.mta.ca/owens/index.php 
The gallery is partially accessible.

Jon Claytor is an artist living and working in Sackville, New Brunswick. He is the co-founder of Sappyfest and Thunder & Lightning Ideas Ltd.