The Higher the Marble Content, The Better the Meat at Bivouac Artspace
By Steven Robert Allen
I've seen Tracy Stuckey's art around town and always assumed he was a she. It wasn't until I visited his current solo show at the Bivouac Artspace that I learned this is not the case.
Even more than Stuckey's ambiguous name, his art led me to assume he was a woman, focusing as it does on the commodification of the human body in our hyper-capitalist culture. Given that men are largely responsible for this commodification, it seemed natural to me that a woman, instead of a man, would be a more likely candidate to choose this subject as her artistic focus. So much for knee-jerk assumptions.
Gender confusion aside, The Higher the Marble Content, The Better the Meat is quite a graphic show. Some people might even consider it disgusting. If you can embrace the butcher shop aesthetic, though, there's a lot to enjoy.
Bivouac Artspace, a relatively new gallery located right next to the Donkey Gallery on south Fourth Street, wasn't heated the day I visited. For this reason, walking into the space was something like entering a meat locker. I wished I'd brought my jacket.
You're first faced with two large-scale oil paintings—"Bacon" and "The Meat Rack"—mounted on two high, moveable walls. The paintings depict grotesque but alluring cuts of meat arranged in waves of red and white so they look almost abstract.
These serve as a nice introduction. In the main gallery space, Stuckey has arranged nine prefab store display mannequins on steel metal bases—five male, five female. With wax and oil paint, Stuckey has made each look like a human-shaped piece of beef, the kind you might find vacuum-sealed on a styrofoam platter in the meat section at Smith's. These aren't human forms stripped of skin. Instead, they're hunks of simulated meat shaped into human forms.
From a distance, these headless, limbless mannequins look very shiny, meat-like and fresh. Up close you can see the painterly lines and even some paint splatters ornamenting their curving muscled surfaces. Each piece sports a "USDA Prime" stamp to assure viewers of quality. Tags dangling from the bottoms of the mannequins include the price of each piece along with a bar code.
Everything is set up to make these meat mannequins look like consumer products, which is Stuckey's overt intent. "I wanted this show to look like a cross between a meatpacking plant and an apparel store," he writes in the accompanying catalog. "I wanted to compare the human body to an animal carcass for sale." Even the exhibit catalog mimics the capsuled style of a consumer catalog with photographic details and different angles of the mannequins to entice potential buyers.
The politics of this work is somewhat obvious, a trait that normally makes me wary. Stuckey draws unsubtle parallels between the meat and fashion industries, showing in the most literal fashion how in both meat inspection and the fashion world flesh is judged based on age, sex, weight and degree of fattiness.
Thankfully, this work is so visually striking that the bluntness of the message isn't tedious. Actually, Stuckey's bluntness makes the satirical force of his art that much more powerful.
I really liked this show. Still, when I got home, I made a nice big salad for dinner.
The Higher the Marble Content, The Better the Meat, an MFA thesis exhibit featuring work by Tracy Stuckey, runs through Nov. 27 at Bivouac Artspace (1413 Fourth Street SW). 385-2717, bivouacartspace.org.
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