Monday, September 17, 2007

In the Flesh

In Old Town Alexandria, the Target Gallery inside the Torpedo Factory hired American University professor Tim Doud to jury “In the Flesh,” an exhibition to focus on the current trends in contemporary figurative art. As this focus is also one of my long-time interests, and as I have in the past curated many exhibitions along the same theme, I was particularly interested in seeing what Doud would select.

And the professor didn’t disappoint! Target received almost 600 entries from all over the country, from which Doud culled 25 pieces delivering an immensely diverse show, that according to Doud himself, aimed at trying to include works from different mediums and approaches.

There is also a strong current of narrative and social commentary issues going on with many of the pieces in the show.

Le Corps Prope Part I
Predictably, my favorite piece in the show was Forrest Solis (from Phoenix, AZ) “Le Corps Prope Part I,” a technically flawless composition which delivered a visual paradox of a female nude metamorphosing into a crocheted teddy bear... I think.

The painting showed remarkable technical facility coupled with a strong sense of perspective and an intelligent issue-raising image, which is still a little befuddling to me.

On my second visit later that day, I gravitated towards Michael Reedy’s “Elephant Man.” This is a very large mixed media piece, where this Ann Arbor, Michigan artist has also used enviable technical skills to mix charcoal, very subtle watercolor tones, colored pencils and some paper staining to deliver a male nude piece that seems to consist of very delicate layers of charcoal, almost being lifted from the surface of the paper.

The subject is a male nude in a fetal position, his head wrapped in a plastic bag. Barely visible in the background are scribbles, drawings, texts and cartoonish representations of an elephant. We see an image of Benjamin Franklin in the act of slicing his nose off, and this together with the text and other imagery reveals rather bluntly, that the artist is possibly delivering an indictment of his own nose?

Michael Reedy Elephant Man
The Franklin imagery is particularly quizzical, unless Reedy is somehow marrying his dislike for a nose too broad with racist connotations and Franklin’s infamous writings that early non-English immigrants to the new United States were not "purely white." Franklin, afraid of the large numbers of non English Europeans settling in the new nation, used the racial scare tactics that survive to this day in political speech to assert that that “Germans, Russians, and Swedes were of a swarthy complexion. Furthermore, only the Saxons and the English constituted the principal body of white people on the face of the earth.”

Susan Krause The Kena 123143A Hippie / Mother of 6
I was also attracted (or perhaps repulsed) to the two sculptural pieces by Atlanta’s Susan Krause. One was a set of huge breasts which could be worn as latex clothing of a sort, and which popped into my head the infamous tale of the 1940’s serial killer Ed Gein, who made and wore a human skin “suit” made from his victims’ skin. Only the title, "The Kena 123143A Hippie / Mother of 6," disarms the piece and takes Gein away from the brain and replaces it with an image of fertility triggered by flowers in her hair at some early point in the model's life.

Like any group show, there are some weak pieces in the show, and both of Quanhai Pan’s (from Houston, Texas) entries, “Window to the Soul 1” and “Window to the Soul 3” were badly painted works bordering on an average student work done at the last minute.

Chris Untalan (from Jamaica Plain, MA) has a beautiful classical graphite drawing of a fabulously rotund Mother Earth-type model, and our own area’s Danny Conant and former DC area photographer (now living and working in San Francisco) Samantha Wolov carry the torch for photographers with two strong portraits that cross the wide divide between photography and all other genres of fine art.

Lastly, Target’s new gallery director, the tiny but steel-strong Mary Cook has done wonders with the gallery space and direction since she took over a little over a year ago. Target is almost like a new space, with overhead lights that actually work to illuminate the subject and new walls to replace the ugly carpet that used to pass for gallery walls. More importantly, she has also delivered on new ideas for interesting exhibitions. She deserves a well-earned pat on the back and a bonus for delivering such an amazing turn around into this space in such a quick time.

The exhibition ends on October 13, 2007. See the show online here.