Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stephen Paul Day at the Arthur Roger Gallery

What do the rise and fall of empires have to do with Las Vegas? Probably not much except that both were into glamorous and grandiose symbolism. History is always a roll of the dice and somebody always loses. Empires were often fueled by visions of vast wealth, yet they all eventually crumbled. Stephen Paul Day's Blame It On Vegas exhibition actually focuses far more on European history than it does on Nevada's sin city, which is mostly represented here by his oversize paintings of tacky souvenir matchbooks. By contrast, his sculptures often feature mini-renditions of major European historical figures. In Virus, Adolph Hitler appears as a little manikin frozen in a Roman Salute in a foggy glass bubble. In a smallish bronze sculpture, Michael, a morose child appears surrounded by chess pieces comprised of scowling military men. Here in Louisiana we grew up with allusions to Napoleon in the form of avenues, cafes and even our legal code, but in Day's General Strategy Napoleon appears as a row of pastel candy colored busts on a shelf. This interplay of grandeur and tackiness is an ongoing theme.

His attempts to link Vegas with European historical figures can seem far fetched, yet he appears obsessed with finessing the contradictions of his romantic yet nihilistic outlook, and his work is often so finely wrought that it can be seductive. Lady Fingers is a glass female figure finished like white marble and it would be quite neoclassical if not for her unexpectedly exposed inner organs. In Pink Napoleon, the romantic egomaniac, reappears as two identical glass busts, kissing, in a mingling of flashy attitude and classical craft comparable to, say, snips of Beethoven's Eroica symphony sampled in a rap song. And then there's his wall sculpture, Mirror, six assault rifles rendered in reflective gold glass arranged in a row. Is it a comment on the 2013 version of the American Dream, or is it just Day up to his old tricks? Your call. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Blame It On Vegas; Collecting Meta-Modern: Mixed Media works by Stephen Paul Day, through May 25, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.