Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Red Bull's Art of Can exhibition showcases unknown and emerging artists

by Cory Robertson

Have you ever been to an art exhibit and thought to yourself, "I could do that?" Red Bull, provider of energy drinks to the masses, apparently thinks the same thing. Their Art of Can competition, a challenge to the everyman artist to construct something groundbreaking from Red Bull cans—or simply inspired by them—has resulted in an exhibition of the top creations from Chicago's competition at the River East Art Center, showing Nov. 9-18.

Although the selected pieces were made by people from all walks of life, don't expect the works on display to be unimpressive. Bob Gallagher, director of event development at the River East Art Center, is ready to attest to the outlandishly intricate and innovative work that will soon be on display. In particular, he mentions an alligator and a dragon sculpture—both of which can be viewed on the Red Bull Art of Can website ( "The amount of time and intricate detail that some of these artists put into it is pretty amazing," he says, a fact corroborated by any glimpse at the exhibited creations. James Ishikawa's "Vitalized Dragon," a curving and gleaming invention of Red Bull's signature blue, silver and red metal, speaks volumes of the 19-year-old Park Ridge student's artistic determination. "Inside Out," an anthropomorphically surreal sculpture that is part bull and part human, is the accomplishment of Alfonso "Piloto" Nieves, a South Side sculptor and a native of Queretaro, Mexico.

Although "Art of Can" is a nationwide program that has already taken place in a variety of cities, including Boston and Minneapolis, the show at River East consists of pieces chosen specifically for the Chicago collection. The panel of judges includes a bevy of Chicago's art aficionados, such as Jeanne Long, associate director of special exhibitions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and local frame and gift gallery owner Todd Mack of Foursided & Twosided. "The judge's decisions were difficult because there were so many great pieces to deliberate," says Red Bull representative Nyla Hassell.

It seems that Red Bull has succeeded in reaching out to a wide audience of artists in their own right. "There are a lot of backgrounds represented," says Gallagher, noting that Chicago's exhibition includes the work of everyone from emerging artists to architectural students to a registered nurse. The competition also sponsors an educational program that brings talented students from local schools to River East Art Center. After attending an educational viewing of the exhibit, the students interact with competition finalists and finally participate in a workshop in which they are given the chance to create their own "Art of Can" piece.

The Art of Can program is undeniably promotional, but luckily for Chicago, it also has a number of benefits to our community—not least of which is encouraging current and future artists to work with recycled material and providing them with exposure. But the art exhibit itself promises a plethora of eye-catching inventions. "I believe when most people hear about Art of Can they find it hard to conceptualize what the exhibit will really look like," says Hassell. "Once they walk through the doors there is generally amazement at the quality of design and execution of the pieces."