Monday, August 8, 2011


By Tom Wachunas

“No matter how much we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.” –Milan Kundera-

“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” – Andy Warhol –

“We need to think seriously about how exactly we treasure and remember our heroes through our art. Are we loving the look, the feel, or the fame of our icons too much more than we love what they symbolize?” –June Godwit –

Among the most striking aspects of current show at Anderson Creative – called “Mann-Icons” - are its intimate uniformity of scale, and its straightforward concept. Anderson staffer Heather Bullach, in this her first project as a curator, gave each of her artists a wooden drawing mannequin and a shelf, and asked them to transform the figures into icons of their choosing, leaving the interpretation of ‘icon’ up to the artists. They were also required to create a 2-D background for their pieces. The resulting 13 works are, for the most part, delightfully entertaining 3D tableaus – presented like knick-knack or curio shelves – dedicated to figures from both fiction (literature and film) and real human history.

Given the ideological content, it’s not too surprising that a kitsch aesthetic is fairly prevalent. Some of the works look like they could be mockups for Lord and Taylor, or Macy’s window displays. While a few entries possess a slap-dash, throw-away carelessness, most are very solidly composed, constructed with impeccable craftsmanship and clear thoughtfulness if not unabashed affection for their subjects. Kitsch need not be so terribly cheap or vapid that it’s inconsequential junk. And rather than sparing us the strain of real contemplation - the hallmark of purely “low brow” art, or kitsch at its shallowest – the best pieces in this collection are pleasurable invitations to engage their subjects both cerebrally and emotionally, depending upon your predisposition to the “celebrities” being presented.

Sourcing cinema comedy, Kevin Anderson has cleverly reconstructed a scene, with his unadorned mannequin as Gene Wilder from “Blazing Saddles” (an iconic Western spoof if ever there was one), in his piece called “Yeah, But I Shoot With THIS Hand.” The mannequin’s hand is mechanically rigged to move up and down when viewers slide a toy pistol along a metal track. Interactive, kinetic art with hilarious results. Also from the world of film is Erin Mulligan’s “Mary Poppins,” with the mannequin elaborately made up into a likeness of Julie Andrews in her long black coat, holding her umbrella aloft as she glides through the air above London, shown via a luscious aerial-perspective backdrop painting in misty, liquid grays and tans. Luscious too is Chris Rood’s “Alice in Wonderland,” with its rich, meticulous sculptural detail and spectacular color. It’s a phantasmagorical menagerie that pays giddy homage to the Mad Hatter with Disneyesque panache.

David McDowell’s “William Shakespeare: Wordsmith” is a tour-de-force of unified form and function, content and concept. The mannequin is posed to conjure the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, with one knee on the bare shelf – the stage – and one hand holding a skull. Rising up next to the figure is a towering abstract ‘sculpture’ made from interlocking black plastic letters. A small spot lamp clipped to a corner of the stage shines up through the configuration, casting a shadow up on the wall in the startling likeness of The Bard. Dramatic and utterly ingenious.

For poignant, simple formal elegance, there’s Bob Yost’s “Jesus Christ.” The bare mannequin is crucified, the wood cross embedded in a mosaic of textured and glazed tiles, many carved with timeless, compelling words describing who Jesus is, what he did, and why. The piece embodies the more ancient connotations of “icons” – sacred likenesses. As such, the work effectively reminds me that this particular “historic” individual transcends modern manifestations of fame and celebrity. And in that, it’s the icon of all icons.

Photo by Heather Bullach, of the piece by David McDowell, “William Shakespeare: Wordsmith” on view at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Gallery hours are Wednesday – Saturday 12 noon to 5 p.m.

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