Figuratively Speaking is a new exhibit at Rymer that finds gallery director Natalie Dunham presiding over a show that she juried, choosing a handful of work from a flood of submissions that came in from all over the globe. While Dunham chose all the work without knowing any information about the artists who made the individual pieces, she was pleased to find that her blind choices still yielded a majority of Southeastern U.S. artists for the final show.
Dunham was gracious enough to talk me through the show, as it’s a very diverse affair featuring work that ranges dramatically in tone, style, medium and message. But in the end, the two pieces that caught my eye when I walked in were still my favorites when I walked out.
Shana Kohnstamm’s “Homage to Tanning’s Cousins” invokes the life and work of Dorthea Tanning — an American painter, sculptor and writer, Tanning ran with the bests artists in the world in the middle of the 20th century and was the widow of Max Ernst. She died in 2012 at the age of 101.
Tanning’s “Cousins” is a sculpture of two abstract figures standing side-by-side, crafted out of synthetic fur, wool and steel. Kohnstamm’s version (pictured above) offers her own twist as any successful homage must. The artist presents two abstract figures as in the original, but Kohnstamm’s version is more articulated, sexual and gender bendy. It’s also a lot more humorous than Tanning’s piece. Kohnstamm’s construction is self-consciously cartoonish, finding a brown anthropomorphic figure with a muscular, masculine body but a large orifice for a head seeming to drag another figure by its “neck” — the pink figure has a feminine, curvy shape and a big floppy penis for a head. Even from the sidewalk this pair made me take a second look.
The other piece I liked was Carrie Alter’s “Deer Diary 1” — it’s an oil painting that’s been scrawled on with black Sharpie marker. “Deer” pictures the beanpole legs of an adolescent girl wearing peppermint-striped knee socks and short-shorts. From the waist up she’s the neck and head of a dead deer that slumps toward the viewer, staring into the gallery with all the big brown empty its eyes can muster.
I’m as tired as anyone of seeing artists borrowing from the exhausted trend of taxidermy-inspired interior design — enough with the antlers, already! But what I like about this piece is that it wins me over despite my objections by also giving me all the frantic lines, gooey brush strokes and bold colors that tell me I could only be looking at a painting. As Magritte may have muttered: “This is not a deer/girl.”
Catch the show through May 31.
This review first appeared on the Nashville Scene’s Country Life blog