While shopping for your weekly quota of unhealthy foods and underpriced foreign goods you might happen to encounter a Brendan O’Connell original. While some artists have pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and private collections all over the world, his pieces can be found on aisle five, at your friendly neighborhood retail giant, Walmart. He is an enigma of the art world, someone who is more or less an outsider artist, yet on his website he describes himself as someone who makes “abstract expressionistic paintings.”  But, in actuality, he produces rather banal, kitschy work that might be enjoyed by your aunt while she picks out a cut of meat for that Christmas party, and strolls the aisles of the local box store.

Mr. O’Connell may have intention behind his work, but when a multi-billion dollar company is sponsoring him, he is feeding directly into the never-ending machine of kitsch work. He perfectly matches Clement Greenberg’s definition of kitsch:  “It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system and discards the rest.”

His work is very popular and easily accessible. Who doesn’t like a painting of a Nutella jar? Some go to the Museum of Modern Art and spend half an hour in front of a Rothko and wonder, “What’s so special about this?  Why, I could probably make that.”  Rothko’s work is not as accessible to the general public.  It helps to be somewhat visually literate in order to understand the meaning and the concept behind a Rothko piece to truly appreciate it. However, grocery store products require no work on the viewer’s part. Without any knowledge of art movements and artists, one can view O’Connell’s work on the wall and have a basic understanding of what the artist is trying to say.

Some may argue that what he is doing is making art more accessible to the average person; the art world thrives upon the upper class to sustain it. Shouldn’t everyone be exposed to art?  However, one must think of the role of the corporation in the making of this artwork. Walmart foots the bill for almost everything O’Connell creates now. They transport him all over the world to different Walmarts, to meet people and try to glean inspiration. When the corporation plays a role in the production of art, it turns art into just another product, ready to be consumed and immediately thrown out.

If one squints very hard his work is vaguely reminiscent of Monet’s Water Lilies, although you can’t get much farther away from Impressionism than Walmart.  O’Connell says he wants to paint American lives, and American people, but he is unsuccessful on both of those counts, falling short of monumental artists such as Hopper and Warhol, who offered up Americana with worlds more elegance, style, and insight.  O’Connell falls somewhere between the two and never quite makes it out of the gray area, or dark abyss, that is kitsch.

Sarah Perdue is a senior Photography major at SVA. She enjoys Russian literature, and speed walking the mean streets of New York.