At first glance, it might appear one had stepped into a Warhol retrospective.
About 400 packages in shades of red, pink, orange, gold, blue, green, black and white, containing all manner of items typically found in supermarkets, point to the playfulness that can mark shopping for things presented in ways that are clever and amusing. In this case, the hundreds of items on view were curated from 700 products bought in Japan by Desgrippes Gobé for a show called "Suupaa Pop!" that opened Wednesday night and runs through May 25 at the gallery of the American Institute of Graphic Arts in Manhattan.
Large Pop Art images of the packages are splashed across one wall of the gallery, leading to a floor-to-ceiling stack of mostly brown cartons from Sunrise Mart, a local Japanese supermarket, a humorous touch intended to show that even a plebeian box can have eye-catching graphics, from bold logos to graceful Japanese writing. The name "Suupaa Pop!" is a play on the way Anglo words like supermarket can be expressed (and abbreviated) so that they sound as if they're being spoken in Japanese, related the show's curator, Frederico Evangelista, a brand strategist at Desgrippes Gobé who lived in Tokyo during his junior high and high school years.
The show rolls out in waves of color, so there's Black Chocolate, Black Mocha Blend, Black Drink It and Black Black Gum, for example, the latter in a box including a small pad of paper people can use to wrap their chewed pieces before tossing them. There's also a small, slim, black can of Georgia Coffee, a beverage sold in Japan by Coca-Cola, which comes out of vending machines hot.
There are surprises, including the sleek, smooth blue-and-silver package encasing Bannou Tsuyu soy sauce — which looks like it might contain a fragrance — and the animal-print box with a gorilla on its label offering hair color and encouragement ("helping you enjoy an active lifestyle"). Such items reflect the quality and fun often found in packaging in Japan, Evangelista observed.
"This is a quick snapshot of what can be done with something so simple," Desgrippes chief executive Marc Gobé said of the collection; these concepts could extend to the bags, wraps, trims, boxes and labels of fashion brands. For example, Evangelista recalled his experience at a Levi's store in Tokyo, where a shopping bag for his $40 purchase of Levi's jeans was perfectly protected by a plastic bag provided by the store as a "raincoat" during a downpour.