featured gallery for February 2004

American Archetypes

The myths that make up the archetypal models of life in the United States have often held a fascination for artists of many points of view. From the "founding fathers" to "little sambo" to Frosty the Snowman, the artists presented here play with idealized (or demonized) characterizations that are specific to the American cultural landscape. Through various manipulations -- some subtle and some blunt -- these archetypes are subverted and thrust back to the viewer, revealing an underlying truth about their nature.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (Memorial Day Weekend) turns the classical notion of heroic memorial sculpture on its head. A stack of large, white sheets of paper that viewers can take away -- Gonzalez-Torres creates an ephemeral elegy that floats in space, scattering empty pages in all directions. As with Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Blanchon's Untitled (John Quincy Adams, Boston) is also concerned with subversion of historic memorials. Using photography to make beautiful pictures of bodily details from bronze public sculpture, Blanchon inserts himself into the historical narrative through his erotic gaze.

Also focusing on the body, for differing effects, are William Donovan's Marked Man and Joe DeHoyos' Red, White and Blue. Donovan's larger than life fingerprint emphasizes the inescapable connection between our bodies and our place in society. The fingerprint is at once an archetype of individuality, while also a powerful tool for governmental tracking and monitoring. DeHoyos' geometric breakdown of the U.S. flag and superimposition of male pornographic images points directly to the phallus as subtext within the American power dynamic.

The flag is tackled as well by David Wojnarowicz's Untitled, a composite of 12 photographs surrounding an image of a flying flag. The juxtaposition of small insects, the white house, men having sex, and narrative text -- all seen as if looking through a microscope or telescope -- combine to create a voyeuristic sense of an alternative vision of America and a critique of the role of its government.

Several of the artists in this show take aim at stereotypical icons associated with race, religion, gender, sex, and popular culture. Frederick Weston's Little Black Sambo places an image of the artist as a boy into the context of institutionalized racism, presenting a snapshot portrait of a child and his relation to the dehumanizing stereotypical imagery of the "pickaninny" or "sambo." While Tseng Kwong Chi's Woodpile, Vermont looks ironically and light heartedly at the virile lumberjack, James Reich's Frosty adds demonic overtones to the image of a loveable, pastoral snowman and his little friend. Similarly, Mike Parker's I Heart Beauty uses the skills of sign painting to comment on the saccharine, yet magnetic, nature of popular culture. More serious and disturbing is W. Benjamin Incerti's Untitled 1991 photograph of an anti-gay demonstration in New York. In a clear documentary style, Incerti captures the virulent hate spewn in the name of a twisted view of religion.

Representing the domestic front are paintings by Sean Earley and Ronald Casanova. Casanova's view of a quiet, modest home complete with front porch and flowers in the yard is jolted into the realm of social politics with the title No Housing, No Peace. Earley then takes the viewer inside with The Experiment, his unsettling image of patriotic child's play gone wrong.