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Comfortable Disturbances On Display
by Allan Appel | Sep 27, 2013 10:40 am
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts
A stiletto heel about to make its way into your cranium. A bowl of Skittles offered in support of George Zimmerman. Charles Manson as a friendly party animal And a sleazy Mr. Softee in his ice cream truck, waiting for the kids to show up.
These images are among the some 51 works of art in “Disturbing the Comfortable,” the Art Council’s latest show on display through Nov. 1 in the second-floor Sumner McKnight Crosby Jr. Gallery.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so must be the more turbulent reactions to visual art. These include anxiety, shock, outrage, fear, disorientation, and, well, even yuckiness. In short: discomfort.
That’s what rookie curator Hayward Gatling set out to explore as he invited artists to shake things up in the spirit of British street artist Banksy’s manifesto: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
According to the Council’s release, Gatling wanted the artists he chose to “push the envelope.”
Click here for photos of the show by I Love New Haven’s Jeffrey Kerekes.
I understand how an artist provocateur like Banksy disturbs the comfortable: He paints on their buildings and he gets in their sight lines.
I’m not sure the authorities will be getting after artist Bill Saunders for any offense cause by his jauntily entertaining installation. According to the Council’s Debbie Hesse, Saunders contribution to the show arrived just minutes before the exhibition’s blow-out opening party last week. It played psychedelic 1960s tunes, and even emitted some smoke.
Maybe the smoke part, if it set off an alarm, can be counted as disturbing.
Saunders built and re-purposed his piece from a piece of the ceiling of his college dormitory room, according to Hesse. That makes me smile, not be discomfited.
Then again, there’s no accounting for discomfort. Council Executive Director Cindy Clair said she appreciates Saunders planting his colorful multipurpose funhouse contraption in the vestibule of the gallery because it blocks the view of Katro Storm’s acrylic portrait of 1960s mass murderer and cult figure Charles Manson.
Clair said she wrote a school paper way back when on Manson, and ever since, he’s been, well, discomfiting to her.
On the other hand, I found Katro Storm’s portrait, despite the subject matter, to be positively goofy. Storm has Manson’s eyes staring off, not looking at the visitors passing by him, unscathed, down the corridor. He looks like a friendly party guy (well, maybe he was, and that was part of the lethal allure). Storm’s portrait subverts what you should be comfortable or uncomfortable with.
Katro, a local muralist, is doing the same thing with the portrait of baseball great Jackie Robinson, also in Gatling’s show.
With so many African-American and Latino Major Leaguers today, what Robinson did in the 1940s is hardly pushing the envelope these days, although being reminded of it doesn’t hurt. What’s intriguing about the portrait is that Storm’s foreshortening shows us not the magnificent athlete Robinson was, but a figure with small, thin arms.
As with Manson, this portrait upsets expectations. The foreshortened proportions seems to say, These arms did their job and are tired; now you, new generations, have to supply the strength. That’s not so much threatening as hortatory.
But the show contains other items that may shock and trouble. There’s a little girl doll surrounding by yellow locks as she suffocates in a plastic tube. Hesse said people may find that troubling if they have childhood associations with creepy creatures, a la Stephen King.
Childhood in fact may be the source material for many of our fears. That’s perhaps one reason why Mike Ross’s photo of a threatening ice cream truck guy stays with me in a discomfiting way. The image immediately summoned a childhood memory for me. In the 1950s, a prowling man who turned out to be a child molester came close to the house in L.A. where my brother and I lived.
I also was discomfited by printmaker and teacher Barbara Harder’s mixed media montotype, maybe because I’m a writer who loved his high school Latin class. The piece features an angry splash of blood on a page of manuscript. The page looks strangely like a concordance in Latin dealing with the books of the Bible. The text is old, the paint appears violent and fresh. How did they come together?
The image suggests that people continue to kill each other over issues of faith and free expression. That’s not a new idea, is not pushing the envelope. Yet it remains deeply disturbing.
Click here for a full list of the artists in the show.
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The smoke was just candles. There is a mirror, though….
PUBLIC ART WARNING:
Fellow art appreciators, Dr. Ned’s Incredible Psychedelic Jukebox, (aka that multi-colored funhouse contraption) is now touring downtown New Haven thru Oct. 2.
For full tour info, visit this public event page….
So be careful folks, when entering the Arts Council.
You are now faced with Manson…..