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Indeed, the detachment that Urban Decay suggests--from the people who actually live in the projects, from the contradictory sentiments that comprise its marketing message, from everything--is what makes it notable. Discovering the beautiful in the abject is an old sport; it's just that earlier voyeurs developed complex aesthetic theories to justify the pleasure they took in observing--from the perspective of privilege and distance--the wretchedness of others. In contrast, Lerner simply lays it on the line: in a world where everything's so aggressively for sale, she challenges, where everything's so poised for thoughtless consumption, you can now market misery without even trying to hide the fact that that's what you're doing.

It's a provocative vision. Indeed, with Urban Decay, Lerner immediately establishes herself as an artist to watch. That the names she's come up with are relatively tame, given the general concept, only adds resonance to her work. In the wake of Urban Decay's commercial success-- savvy collectors are already buying up the complete product line and showcasing it in cubes constructed from smudged taxicab windows--competitors will no doubt come out with more bluntly named items: Lesion, Dogshit, Hematoma.

But in surpassing the sensationalism of Urban Decay, they will merely help Lerner complete the meaning of her project. Like every other consumable in the world's department store, Lerner's cosmetics will ultimately suffer a rapid degeneration of value: from fashionable to familiar to forgotten. Clever product names, Lerner implies, cannot prevent this downward spiral; it's how the world works now.

The best strategy is simply to be at one with it.


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