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Incident No.51: Esau McGhee

Olde English



The blank rectangles of the beer cases in Olde English hold totally contrary social information: the elitist minimal aesthetic, -codification of the American intellectual- and the social information contained by the actual product is something that represents the economic implausibility of trickle-down theories: Known by the elite as a sign of something to avoid in its cheapness, and known by the consumer as simply affordable, useful. Sensual beauty and craftsmanship invested in the form and surface by the artist belies a type of timeless care: the image that these sculptures become, is classical art without leaving the meaning of contemporary context out.

The promotional campaign of Olde English originates in its actual context. The artist considers ‘a white boy in the suburbs drinking a forty as a false connection to authentic black urban culture’. He implies that a collector of these crates will similarly possess an ownership of what the cases can represent as art –critical social value encased in the symbolic nature of the surfaces. At the same time, the collector may justify investment value by tying the work to an historical lineage that is shared with such established works as Warhol's Brillo boxes. What the Brillo product initially represented was somewhat blandly optimistic as a consumer item though, whereas Olde English is significantly more nihilistic to both ends of the social spectrum. In Olde English the social cool of high and low culture confront one another in a way that is un-resolvable and yet satisfying. The sensual object as art fulfills expectation as a stimulant, as do the contents of the actual product to its consumer.


The newest flag is down in Hudson, New York; its colors are black, red and gold. Its not the German flag, but a more fractured arrangement of these colors. Color is in service of sales. Regal history is appropriated for consumption by the industry's cheapest product.

The colors may refer to the coded hierarchy of liquor, among other things. For this is an installation that uses black and red, in one arrangement adjacent to an alter arrangement of golden, stacked forms. The minimalist stack (is it a reclamation?) might be read as ghetto Judd; finished and uniform as the minimalist master, but at once corroded and bling-ed. The units are a multiple of 40oz. malt liquor crates; attractive de-monuments, crafted well as tweaked replicas to bend our eyes. 

These stacks are contained in a sea of white…in a practical sense the ever-present white scrim backdrop is the standard Incident Report environment, but the larger ecology in which the 40's are situated is a much sloppier condition of black-and-whiteness than the well-finished surfaces of the Olde English 800.

Excavating Potyomkin Village

This is a town where a quarter of the 'full-time' residents are living below the poverty line, and 500 of the 7,000 Hudson residents live in the Hudson Correctional Facility. McGhee's crates become something like a periscope that pops up from the main commercial street, the engine of the gentrification machine, and looks out to the surrounding blocks that are the fuller composition of the city, -to the people that are left out of the discourse on the directives of local economy. The crates invert the Olde English language into one of stoop culture patois. The arrangement presents us with the top-shelf status of the black and red boxes -and the gold of teeth that are bared to those that stray off the main commercial street into the darkness of neighborhood culture. The crate; a box, container, cage, step-up, building block, a block of buildings. The cases are replicated and distributed to territories zoned for devaluation. 

Today, June 10 is the biggest occasion of the city, drawing large crowds of thousands of onlookers to a spectacular Flag Day parade. It is also the emptiest vestige of meaning in presenting community. The spectators (often invisible) are the truer site: those that watch the flag with euphoric disbelief. Also often invisible is the authentic label, that here becomes meaningful. The 40oz has migrated into the boutique behind the spectator and now we are all looking.

'One million bottlebags count 'em

Think they can bounce the ounce And it get 'em

Yo black spend 288 million

Sittin' there waitin' for the fizz

And don't know what the fuck it is

An oh lemme tell you 'bout shorty

He about seventeen lookin' like 40

Treats his 40 dog better than his G

When he gets a big b o t t l e

Oh he loves tha liquor

But look watch shorty get sicker Year after year

While he's thinkin' it's beer…'

 -from, Public Enemy, One Million Bottlebags