If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked artist Cauleen Smith — whose new solo show at the Whitney, “Cauleen Smith: Mutualities,” will run through May 17 — about the bike gear, jumpsuit, and cleaning product she can’t live without.
If I could get away with wearing Dickies jumpsuits every single day, I would do it. I have three. I like that they’re designed to fit anybody, but they still somehow manage to fit every body really well — I’ve never seen anyone look bad in a Dickies jumpsuit. On all shapes and sizes, they work. They also allow you to move around — I wear them to work in my studio, or if I’m installing a show — and they repel dirt, so you can just do whatever you want in them without worrying.
I never feel alone when I’m surrounded by the creative works of my friends. LaToya is a good friend of mine and a phenomenal photographer. This is her first book: It covers issues like ecological racism, toxic environments that working people have to live in, and health care. She manages to present all of these very serious issues in a very empathetic way through her own life story. I think it’s a really important book, and the photographs themselves are classically perfect, black-and-white photos. A great body of work.
Transitioning from container gardening to cultivating an entire backyard made me feel like Martha Stewart, I swear. Seed Savers has a wonderful herb-seed selection. Growing herbs from seeds feels like an act of faith, really. You put a little nugget in the ground and then it turns into a big plant that feeds you? Amazing. The first time I planted seeds in the ground was in Chicago — nasturtiums and chives. I didn’t expect either to break through. Not only did they sprout and thrive, they returned the following spring, stronger and more generous than ever. What’s better than a plant that gives you food and flowers? A plant that makes flowers that are food, that’s what! I try to cook what I grow, and if I can’t eat it all, I try to give it away. I try to plant stuff I’m going to eat, but that’s another nice thing about having the full garden — I can give stuff away to neighbors.
I was looking for something to clean stuff in the kitchen that wasn’t toxic or a chemical or bad for the ocean. Everybody swears by vinegar and baking soda, or just baking soda alone, and it is insane how well it cleans. You can do everything from brush your teeth to scrub your stove with this stuff. I mainly use it in the kitchen: I pour it down the garbage disposal, or use it on pots to get the gunk off of the bottom of them. I also use it with vinegar to unclog the drain in my shower. It doesn’t leave any smell, it just leaves a little powdery residue that’s easy to get rid of and doesn’t do any harm. Baking soda is a harmless, superpowerful cleaning agent. I think it’s miraculous. There aren’t that many products that are as affordable or versatile.
While I was living in San Diego, there was one of those huge gas-price spikes, so I bought a bicycle. I saved like $300 a month just by doing that — and then I got really fit on top of it. I became a total bike fanatic and discovered that you don’t have to get dressed in Spandex and ride a $1,000 bicycle to be a cyclist. You can just hop on your bike. And if you use it to go to the grocery store or for other errands, you can get a basket. The best bike pannier I’ve ever had is this one from Swift Industries, which allows you to customize it with your own color combination. My red ’80s Fuji road bike has been lovingly outfitted with the pannier and another basket so I can tool around from grocery store to library or wherever in swift style.