Friday, April 1, 2011

A Most Curious Morgue

A Most Curious Morgue

By Tom Wachunas

As explained in Craig Joseph’s curator’s statement, the premise for the current exhibit at Anderson Creative – “The Exquisite Corpse” – springs from the gamesome Surrealist processes of old. Specifically, one practice was to have three artists produce, on a single piece of paper, an image of a human body. The first would render a head, then fold the paper so as to reveal just enough visual starting point for the second artist to make a torso and fold the paper down again, leaving the third artist to provide the legs. As bizarre as the resultant pieces usually were (as they certainly are in this show, and delightfully so), these studio games were nonetheless invigorating evidence of Surrealism’s embrace of blind chance and pure intuition in making a ‘finished’ work.

In this contemporary application of the premise, there are 16 pieces, by 48 randomly grouped artists from around the country, working in a wide array of media. One brilliant twist to the exhibit was an almost eleventh-hour curatorial decision to eschew conventional display of the pieces. Rather than being hung on the walls of the gallery, the works are laid out horizontally on thin particle board slabs that jut out from the walls. Consequently, I felt not so much like a typical gallery viewer in a traditional sense as, somewhat eerily, a visitor, or maybe even a forensic doctor, in a hospital or mortuary ward, circling and peering across, then down at the ‘bodies,’ then up at the accompanying wall-mounted clipboards - each body’s ‘chart.’ Ironically enough, though, the overall sensibility that these particular corpses exude is more subtly mirthful than overtly morbid - a giddy anarchy of arch anatomies.

In assessing these works individually as unique, integrated objects, keep in mind that, in formal qualities of execution or technique, they are unified more by the motive and process behind their making than by consistently applied rules of pictorial composition. In fact there are many wildly disparate hybrids – part animal, part mechanical, part human- ranging from the whimsical and childlike to the wryly fantastic. What we see is the result of serendipity, really.

It is only uncanny luck of the draw, for example, that the all- pastel work on blue-gray paper comprised of Ted Lawson’s compelling skull atop Beth Nash’s haunting torso (like a mummy unraveling), in turn atop Bobby Rosenstock’s rope-bound legs, appears almost to be the work of a single artist. Most of the other pieces are relatively, and not surprisingly, disjointed. For all of that, though, many pieces here are nonetheless engaging for the sheer technical skill, and the often comical theatricality, of their individual parts. In one, the hilarious legs painted by Erin Mulligan are those of meowing cats, whose front paws are attached to spindly, bird-feet stilts. In another, the torso by Jamie Stegner is an exquisite, clever pencil rendering of clocks as arms and a rib cage made of watchbands. Equally exquisite is Katherine Cox’s drawing of a head - made of small, faceted gray stones - that seems to be exploding, or invaded by streams of escaping green leaves.

What resonates most in this show is a collective spirit of random, experimental frolic – its pure and unfettered fun. Some of these works, these “corpses,” look clearly raw and spontaneous, others more studied and refined. But none of them is too macabre. And none speaks from any seriously horrific grave. I’m pleasantly reminded that gravity’s opposite is, after all, comedy.

Photo: a collaborative pastel “corpse” by Ted Lawson (head), Beth Nash (torso), and Bobby Rosenstock (legs), on view in “The Elegant Corpse” at Anderson Creative, through April 30, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wed. – Sat. Noon to 5 p.m. (closed Good Friday and Holy Saturday).
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