Part of the fun of going to opening receptions at art shows is listening to people talk about the art. In the case of last night’s show at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the eavesdropping payoff was compounded by hearing art students discuss the work of faculty.
Comments overheard at last night’s opening for Rotten Sun: On the Grotesqueries in Art and Design: “It just really jars me. I don’t like it . . . I don’t see any reason to it. I can’t even look at it.” And later in the evening: “The finger shoes are so disturbing!” referring to Design Chair Tom Gannett’s Deadly Pumps, graphic collages reminiscent of 1950s-era advertisements, except the pumps are made of beetles and razor blades instead of patent leather.
One could have a thoroughly entertaining evening following around a particularly vocal and opinionated group of young people on a “guided tour.”
Rotten Sun features recent work from two dozen Minneapolis College of Art and Design faculty members. The show’s name refers to an essay by French writer and philosopher Georges Bataille in which he describes the “life-giving sun as actually a monstrous ball of fire”; the smooth and shiny surface turned inside out to expose dark inner workings.
The grotesque in art can be obvious. But more often it’s subtle, producing a sense of unease rather than outright revulsion. Mary McDunn’s diptych of a polar bear floating in a tank of water falls into the latter category. Titled Around . . . and around . . . and around, the black-and-white photos hint at animal despair and the futility of life in the manmade world.
Several artists follow a similar thread offering highly detailed images of animals that draw you in with their beauty, but stir up dissonant feelings with their subject matter. Pam Valfer subverts the pictorial process with Highway 35 and County Road V. Her landscape in oil depicts a forested landscape with the smallest scrap of highway visible and a deer laying lifeless in the foreground, the certainty of its state punctuated by an unnaturally bowed leg. Katherine Turczon’s American Crow and House Sparrow, close-up highly detailed black-and-white images of dead birds, offers incredible depth and beauty along with a helping of morbidity. Then there’s Linda Wing’s Hannah’s First Trout, a taxidermy fish lacquered in sparkly pink nail polish and mounted on a pearl-studded plaque. The description next to Wing’s piece sums up well the mixed impulses at play: “There is a special and perverse place in [Wing’s] heart for wildlife.”
Dead animals may strike a more obvious chord of the grotesque than, say, Allen Brewer’s colored pencil and ink drawings. His portraits of 1950s teenagers—girls in fitted sweaters, boys in ties and thick glasses—are taken out of context, isolated from their surroundings. For Brewer, the grotesque in his work has to do with the idea that representation of the past, of a person’s life, always feels like a “chunky, cheap rendition” that does not live up to our own memories.
Rotten Sun runs through October 7 at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.