Sunday, May 24, 2009

Morbid Anatomy at Barrister's

It was an intriguing concept for an exhibition: "Morbid Anatomy: Examining the Interstices of Art and Medicine, Death and Culture." Guest curator Joanna Ebenstein set the tone by soliciting work dealing with "hysteria, reliquaries, phrenology, 'things in jars,' freaks, taxidermy, waxworks, magic lanterns, momento mori and the 'pathological sublime," subjects that somehow suggested a sideshow (or curiosity cabinet, as noted in the title) as much as an art show. Such things titillate at some deeply visceral level; their appeal is sensational with a bit of schadenfreude thrown in for good measure. Yet they can also elicit a sense of wonder, the common ground between carnival freak shows and the art of the museum. Which tendency would prevail, or would it matter?
Here the gallery becomes a theater for morbid extremes. Upon entering we are confronted by a group of white horse-like sculptures with canine heads, perhaps a pack of saber-tooth horse-wolves (left). The mental offspring of Daphne Loney, one with arrows piercing its body suggests a hallucination, perhaps St. Anthony's last nightmare on the desert. On the wall above it is an even stranger vision, a small sculpture by Eleanor Crook of a balding gent with contorted features and flipper-like arms: EUSTACHE “JERK” DUPREE, THE ICARUS MAN OF PONCHATOULA (top). A tragic figure, his expertly modeled form suggests nobility within futility, a thwarted passion to soar above the pain and indignity of his condition. On the wall just behind him is Chicory Miles' EVERYTHING I'VE EVER WANTED (top, far left), a painted, cast iron self-portrait of sorts, only here two torsos sprout from one pelvis, each with two arms and three pair of breasts, a highly maternal model for multi-tasking. Hanging like a Pennsylvania Dutch “hex” on the wall, Miles' duplex-doppleganger appears poised and self-assured. The remaining works such as Jessica Goldfinch's multidigital PRAYING HANDS, left, and Monique Ligons' ANATOMY OF PANTROGLODYTE, above, all have their own stories to impart. Suggesting a microcosm of earthly life, their foibles and anomalies are rendered largely and dramatically enough to make the rest of us feel much better about our own. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

MORBID ANATOMY: Gallery as Wunderkammer
Through June 6th
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 525-2767; www.barristersgallery.com
Expanded from Gambit
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