Imagine you're at the supermarket, one weekday afternoon, sometime after work, absent-mindedly pushing your trolley down the aisles for a bit of grocery shopping. You trundle down the neon-lit canyons of brightly coloured packaging - cereals, soda, toilet paper - and as you pass by the canned goods something catches your eye. Among the peas and beans you spot a series of cans with elegant off-white labels, featuring a delicately rendered reclining female nude. The evocative line drawing reminds you of voluptuous beauties decorating ancient Greek vases, but the figure sports a few extra limbs, gracefully arching three spare arms above her hips. This is more than canned veggies. You've stumbled upon shopdropped art by Natalie Reis. This is your lucky day.
Shopdropping, a form of culture jamming, can be described as reversed shoplifting. Instead of removing merchandise from a store, shopdropping artists buy goods, alter them, and then surreptitiously sneak them back into the store and place them on the shelves. Some artists carefully cut around the bar codes, so the items can be purchased again by appreciative shoppers. Most artistically enhanced products are canned goods, but artists have also modified milk cartons, packets of flour, and jars of coffee, amongst others.
This simple art intervention subverts commercial space and turns it into a venue for contemporary art. Shopdropping makes a positive contribution to our hum-drum visual landscape by injecting a bit of beauty where you least expect it: the garish, mundane supermarket environment. Shopdropping also levels the playing field for some artists who use this form of distribution of their artwork to circumventart galleries, and it exposes those "regular folks" who wouldn't step into an art gallery unless they're on vacation somewhere to contemporary art.
Some shopdropping art has gone full circle. Currently at the Biennale de Montréal, you can visit a Shopdropping exhibit which recreates the supermarket environment and features shopdropped art by local artists. Curated by Natalie Reis and Vanda Daftari, about 1,000 cans of beans and gravy have received new labels, and some artists have set up more elaborate shopdrops than are possible under the watchful eyes of the aisle manager at the local Provigo. Marco Royal Nicodemo, for example, splits his images of invented super heros over several cans. About 30 cans make up the image titled "New God", a brooding quasi-Darth Vader figure, the red beam of his ray gun slashing across cans along the entire 20 foot aisle.
While the Biennale de Montréal has received mixed reviews by critics, the Shopdropping exhibit has been acknowledged as being one of the few fresh, engaging components of the event. And the practice of shopdropping is spreading through the artist's community, precipitating more and more shopdrops. This is good news especially for shoppers, who can now purchase artworks by local artists from the price of a can of chick peas. And buying local produce is always a good practice.
For more information about shopdropping check out the following