Stand Up, Look Around
Out of the Underground at the Jonson Gallery and 516 Arts
By Steven Robert Allen
Larry Bob Phillips' 12-panel hallucinogenic freakfest “Landscape for Merle Haggard” will make your head spin. At first glance, you might even feel a twinge of nausea. The piece boasts hues similar to those found in neon breakfast cereals aimed at the 4- to 8-year-old demographic. You might be tempted to lick it. You might find yourself wondering what would pop out if you donned 3D glasses.
Figures start to emerge. In the bottom right corner, two skeletons seem to be engaged in oral sex. Nearby some garden gnomes are getting liquored. In the foreground, a massive hand holds a brush painting a guitarist with his back to the viewer. All of these figures, along with sunshine and foliage and liquid and words, meld with each other into a frenzied, anxious landscape reminiscent of a ’60s-era concert poster writ large. It's a thing of beauty.
Phillips won the Florence Henri Prize, and three of his pieces are on display at the Jonson Gallery's 13th annual showcase of UNM graduate art students. It's just this sort of surprising, innovative work that makes this yearly show such a joy.
This year the exhibit was juried by SITE Santa Fe's director and curator Laura Steward Heon. Organizers split up the show between two venues—the Jonson and Downtown's 516 Arts. This was a smart decision, not only because there's twice the amount of work on display, but also because its pleasing to see a group show of art by students outside the confines of the university. As in year's past, not all the work is fabulous. Still, overall both halves of this peach are well worth sinking your teeth into.
At the Jonson, Masumi's “Time Keeping” consists of a simple, elegant, brushed steel clock with the alternating words “inhale” and “exhale” etched onto each second. At first, the piece seems meditative and calming, until you try to follow the clock's advice and learn that taking a breath every two seconds is more like panting than breathing, causing anxiety accompanied by unpleasant musings about the limited breaths you have left till the end.
Jennifer Depaolo Vanhorn, winner of this year's Ana Mendieta Prize, also contributes strong work in the form of a trio of puzzling ceramics. Their utter pointlessness is what's so attractive about these strange artifacts, which are too fragile to be toys and too abstract to look at home on a knickknack shelf. They're almost like creatures. If you stare at them long enough, you'll expect them to scuttle or squirm.
The show at 516 Arts is weighted heavily toward multimedia work. Min Kim Park's “Spoken” is another anxiety-producing piece. This disturbing video installation incorporates dozens of copies of the same lipsticked woman's mouth, reproduced in varying sizes, sometimes upside down, chattering, talking or shrieking at once.
Kevin Wesley's digital prints depict a guy in a suit, in one case ripping into a deer's neck with his teeth. They're a deliberately artificial-looking criticism of consumerism and corporatism that might be a bit too obvious to hold your interest for long.
More intriguing are Joseph Mougel's video projections, which incorporate his feelings about war and his own time in the armed services. They have a comedic quality—like an old silent film—with a figure reappearing and disappearing in a New Mexico landscape, speeding around on a monotonous plain or popping out of a hole in the ground. The work suggests the mechanization and isolation of modern military life. It's a lonely piece that maintains enough lightness to make it accessible.
There's too much to describe here in such a limited space, but rest assured there's much more of interest in both shows. The exhibit at the Jonson is coming down this Friday, so do the double whammy while you still have the chance.
Out of the Underground , an exhibit featuring work by graduate art students, runs through April 27 at UNM's Jonson Gallery (1909 Las Lomas NE) and through May 12 at 516 Arts (516 Central SW). 277-4967.
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