Memphis College of Art is displaying plenty of work in its various galleries, but the artists and work I’m going to recommend that you must see may surprise you.
First, “Horn Island 29,” in the Main Gallery of the college’s Rust Hall campus in Overton Park through Sept. 27, is all that one expects in the way of sand, sea, gulls, crabs, driftwood and vast skies. A visual record of the school’s annual sojourn for a group of students, faculty and alumni on the spit of an island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, “29” is neither better nor worse than most of the Horn Island shows, though specifically it lacks the excitement and intensity of the best, one of which was the exhibition in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation the previous year. This year’s expedition may have been a great experience for participants, but that doesn’t surface in the show.
Down at MCA’s Nesin Graduate Center on South Main, the Hyde Gallery offers “Blurring Dimensions” (through Sept. 20), an exhibition that includes work by eight artists curated by Cat Pena, the college’s coordinator of exhibitions and lectures. Artists have been blurring dimensions since Picasso pasted newspaper clippings to his Cubist paintings around 1910, but that 20th century master would never have envisioned the extent, indeed the giddy chaos of combining disparate mediums that this exhibition demonstrates.
A pertinent example is the baroque botanical hothouse of Gregory Euclide’s “Surrounding my hands in the stain of warmth sinking,” a mysterious and enchanting wall sculpture that employs acrylic, pencil, found foam, lichen, lily seed, moss, mylar, photo transfer, pine, plastic, sage, sedum, sponge, wood and wire. Take that, Picasso.
“Blurring Dimensions” includes installation pieces of epic scope and historical purpose and reference by Cedar Lorca Nordbye, Rebekah Laurenzi (strangely beautiful) and Travis Townsend, as well as more intimate works like Amanda Sparks’ sardonic untitled collages, derived from old Readers’ Digest illustrations. But the work that frankly knocked me out was Adam Farmer’s room-filling “Multi-Media Installation” that combines painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, notebooks and sketchbooks for an effect that is (and I assume this is all intentional) bold and brash, droll and sophomoric, witty and discomforting, ugly and weirdly attractive. It is packed with pop culture references, private dreams and myths, seemingly meaningless Dada dreck, and somehow altogether engaging. Take a trek Downtown to see it — and the rest of “Blurring Dimensions.”
Saving the best for last, and heading back to MCA’s Rust Hall in Overton Park, take a peek in what is optimistically called the Alumni Gallery — a corridor of administrative offices — to see Chloe York’s group of 12 acrylic on canvas paintings call “Decorators,” through Sept. 27. I have seen individual pieces from this series in group shows, but have wanted to undergo a more immersive experience.
On the testimony of this exhibition, York is one of the best painters around, capable of handling the most intricate detail and maintaining an impeccable surface. Virtues enhanced by a fertile imagination. Titles that include Roman numerals allow viewers to follow the development of the “Decorator” paintings from the simple, almost crude rendition of No. II to the spectacular XIX and the one titled simply “The Decorator.”
Evidently the theme is beauty, bodily decoration, the cliches of femininity, yet through the very act of painting York imbues her work with a maelstrom of attractive and seductive powers. The later pieces are filled top to bottom and side to side with tiny figures — coral, floral motifs, barnacles, shells, circles, swirls, spirals — conveyed in mainly pale and pastel hues that outline the vague shape of a human head. Rarely has the feat of incrustation been rendered so beguilingly.
The “Decorator” paintings deserve more space, better lighting and a more decisive hand at arrangement than accorded them.
“Horn Island 29” and “Decorators”
A reception for both shows will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Memphis College of Art, Rust Hall, 1930 Poplar in Overton Park. Call 901-272-5100 or visit mca.edu.