Beyond the Crystal Ball

A new exhibit busts out the boldest and brightest artistic responses to a fractured world and gives so-called Realism a good run for its money.

Sara Nicole Miller

Let’s face it: Sour times inspire us way more than the happy ones. Our teenage artistic creations, surely, would be rubbish without that transitory veneer of hormonal malaise, that tortured prose or paint reflecting the briny deep of our souls scratched onto a crusty Mead one-subject.

Enchanted

WHEN through Dec. 16, 2007
WHERE Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for Art, 405 21st Ave. S., West Bank, Minneapolis.

But then we grow up, peer out from our protective shells of purple haze and perma-grimaces, and – gasp! – the world really is as miserable as we thought! Nature’s screwed, people are evil, and no one wants to date you. Suddenly, the Fantasias and tesseracts that filled our adolescent head spaces seem awfully tempting.

Luckily, the new exhibition at the Nash Gallery in the West Bank Arts Quarter is a pan-fried delight of myth and marginalia, served up at a time when one more spoon-fed dose of realism is enough to send thee – running – to the nearest vomitorium.

“Enchanted” takes its inspiration from fantastical responses to our conflicted world. Much like the Dadaists, Slasher filmmakers and other creative cats caught in the abyss of world conflict, the artists featured in “Enchanted” did what any mind on fire would do: They escaped into the mythical meadows of their imaginations and spewed out some art. Within the high-ceilinged cavern of the Nash Gallery, the lumps of Fantasma all simmer, sit and huddle together under the slushy rainbow of the abject.

At first, the art pieces within the gallery space play to the tune of the uncanny, like Wynken, Blynken and Nod on hallucinogens at a birthday feast for Rabelais. The work seems radioactive and surreal. “Enchanted” combines the already dubious arrangements of sculpture (a giant wooden piano slathered in white paint with floorboard guts spilling out the bottom in shards), fabric trinkets (a red pea coat with realistic-looking glass eyeballs for buttons) and photography (a naked, scratched-up man sporting giant ram horns). There are even video installations and a set of hefty, veiny black wings poised on a gothic platform.

Local Argentine artist Horochowski decided to recreate one of her paintings in mural form on the gallery wall. Modeled after Fragonard’s “The Lovers,” the mural depicts a teen couple – a rugged, cigarette-smoking girl wearing an AC/DC shirt and a boy with his trousers half on lounging against each other under a tree. Zany and larkish in nature, Horochowski’s mural seeks to bring back a little of that campy, lush titillation of man/woman sentimental trysts that Fragonard’s work once encapsulated, only with a rebellious girl pursuer and a rose-toting male softie instead of the other way around.

“It’s sort of demystifying the fairy tale,” she explained.

And like her well-known paintings of ghoulish, adolescent girls amid outdoor scenescapes, this mural is but a blink in time, a metamorphosis of growth in the painted subject.

“I like the moment when something is about to become something else, like childhood and maturity coexisting at the same time,” Horochowski said.

Another piece by artist Roxanne Jackson titled “Incorrigible” is a cluster of hideous creature head sculptures. Like empty shells of weird bony mutants (or plaster replicas of Uncle Fester’s mug), the disembodied heads have open mouths with bloody dog snouts protruding out. A stallion head is also poised with the same bloody snout, displayed like the Headless Horseman’s faithful steed in a Smithsonian curiosity cabinet.

And then there’s Blair de St Croix’s piece in the exhibit: a clear-resin menagerie of murky water and jutting-out black trees – in short, an open-aired diorama in the form of a mini-bog, with a little pollution thrown in for good measure. It sits atop a dirt-covered stand.

Originally inspired by the snowy landscapes that dot his memories of Midwestern travel, he now studies polluted landscapes and creates pieces in a sort of tribute or awareness about them.

“He adds a dark interior. It’s sort of a nonscape – this deteriorated, ruined hellscape,” Stanislav explained.

Katie Nelson, a Nash Gallery intern and senior pursuing a B.A. in art, has an amusingly nostalgic and optimistic view of “Enchanted,” likening its willy-nilly, deranged aesthetic to a child’s imagination gone wild while on family vacation.

“If a kid was bored and looking at gargoyles all day, that’s what they would see,” Nelson exclaimed cheerfully.

And whether it be unsafe urban boulevards or self-service laundry that find you scabbing your knuckles over the perils of modern life, it’s at least comforting to know that the fantastic hasn’t lost its childish wonder, or the endearing rebelliousness to accompany it. Those silly nymphs and Wild Things can be conjured up, truly, at any moment. And these artists remind us of that much.

So if you go, enter the gallery with a subliminal openness to vertigo, as “Enchanted” will no doubt produce some. It straddles the precarious swampland between cosmological mischief and gluttonous self abandon, sheepishly inviting itself onto our subconscious jungle gyms.

Like the psychic life of a glass of milk’s skin-like top film or the creepy eyeball scene in Luis Buñel’s “Un Chien Andalou,” “Enchanted” is only fantasy, after all. It’s delightful, slick and sordid. And for a populace smushed in between the dirt and sky of an earthly purgatory, “Enchanted” offers up a new place setting at the buffet table of lived experiences that one can’t help but indulge in.