Thursday, September 11, 2008

My What Big Eyes You… Have?

Eudora Welty Suit for My Cat, Toby—part of Linda Hall's show, The Beast in Me, at Young Blood Gallery. Now, just a little closer, dearie…

While Linda Hall's cat-costume monstrosities make me smile, her 2D works effectively ruin the experience. Her watercolors attempt a kind of children's book aesthetic that, while playful, feels forced and more than a little didactic.

Here's an excerpt in Hall's defense, written to accompany the show's signature costume, We Are What We Endanger (below):
Assuming the bear identity is my playful yet poignant way of forcing empathy… not unlike ancient rituals where a human assumes the spirit of the animal by wearing its skin. Here the viewer is invited to complicate entering the body of the Florida Black Bear, inhabiting its spirit, its power, and its plight. [emphasis mine.]
So… animals connect us? Sorry: somewhere between Hall's bird of prey and its aerial buffet of rodent-and-snake, I got completely lost.

The Black Bear homage, on the other hand, makes more sense. Its ragged textures and big, watery eyes suggest the neglect and malnourishment of a vagabond. As the artist intended, the bear looks pathetic.

But does it hold up to the craftsmanship of, say, the Center for Puppetry Arts? And, although the bear is fun, I wonder if its cartoon features hold it back, anesthetizing its inspirational power. The poles are contradictory—a "beast within" should have teeth, right?

Overall, I liked the "costumes" fashioned after Nick Cave, Eudora Welty, and, especially, Toby's Bird Watching Suit with its raised textures and play of gold-on-cream. But the watercolors really do suffer. The mounting, for instance, is dismal.

Effective naiveté certainly has its examples. I'm sure Linda Hall is a fan of Kiki Smith's folk tale series (e.g., Untitled, 2007 and Lying with the Wolf, 2001). Smith isn't my favorite, but her stab at the genre rings with a little more truth.

We Are What We Endanger. Sorry for the poor photo quality, but you get the idea.



mike said...

I'm glad you mentioned the presentation, because that is what ruined it for me. I was not a fan of the style but I did think that some of the imagery what very imaginative. I would also agree with you that the sculpture was more engaging than the two dimensional work. I feel we may be in the minority though, everyone else I spoke to seemed smitten with the show.

Jeremy Abernathy said...

Bad presentation will always get under my skin. It doesn't take a lot of time to do it right, and someone who proudly displays their 4-page resume in the gallery has little excuse.

Seriously though, this woman has been around. (She's been showing in galleries for 15 years, and she's been teaching art for 6) Why should we give her slack?

It all just felt affected--like she was *trying* to be clever. Cute doesn't equal clever.

Ben Grad said...

I'm checking it out tonight (along with everything else!)

I've got high hopes for the combination of sculptures and 2-d. I dunno, maybe I just really want everything at Youngblood to be awesome.

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