The Incongrous Body

Exhibition Dates: August 11, 2018 – January 20, 2019
Opening Reception: Saturday, August 11th, 7pm-9pm

Curator Presentation @ 7pm

Curator: Timothy John Berg

Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind. -E.B. White

Humor, as E.B. White suggests, is often an uncooperative topic to explore critically. Like our bodies, it is idiosyncratic, can be awkward, weird or surprising, and it can be uncomfortable to scrutinize too closely. Yet much of the art of the 20th century depended upon it. Where would we be today without the rapier wit of the Dadaists, the irony of Pop, the subversive attitude of Funk, or the dark comic vision of the YBA’s? Humor, it turns out, is a vital instrument that can cut through pretensions, disarming viewers in the process, and lead to thought-provoking and timeless works of art. Within this context humor demands the attention of both scientific and non-scientific minds alike.

First hinted at by Aristotle and then developed more deeply by Kant and Schopenhauer, the incongruity theory of humor holds that one finds something humorous when there is a mismatch between the conceptual understanding of something and the perception of it. This is a broad theory that encompasses many varieties of humor, including the absurd, parody, caricature, gallows humor, et al. The fourteen artists in this exhibition represent, stylize, hybridize, and deconstruct the human body to starkly different comic effect. Their work is politically poignant and socially engaging; it uses observational humor and storytelling; it challenges the status quo; it defies logic; it misdirects; it exploits cultural iconography and historical references; and most of all it lays bare the inner workings of their wit. In this exposure, it invites the viewer to revel in the awkward, to embrace the weird and to scrutinize a little bit too closely themselves and the world of which we are all a part.

Artists: Robert Arneson and Viola Frey are internationally renown for their seminal contributions to art history. They produced challenging artwork for decades that upset the status quo and elevated the everyday through their subtle and sometimes mordant use of humor. Matt Wedel continues their legacy by creating enormous figures and heads, which despite their size and fragility are playfully childlike.

The installations of Taehoon Kim include oversized and vibrantly colored body parts, toys, and pop culture references that are at once cute and disorienting. Pattie Chalmers creates surreal narrative tableaus and installations through the combination of characters from her own biography and pop culture. Her complex narratives are often silly and have the effect of transporting the viewer to memories of childhood where imaginary worlds have infinite potential. Another artist who heavily references popular culture is Kristen Morgin, who builds trompe l’oeil clay objects and uses them to construct uncanny and sometimes darkly comic assemblages. The collaborative duo Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis – who go by the name Future Retrieval – also create assemblages, using historical artifacts that they scan from museum collections. These objects are then combined in a deliberate effort to eschew historical narratives and invert reductive readings.

Assemblage is central to the work of Jeremy Brooks as well. Whether he is using images or found figurines, Brooks slyly subverts a Rockwellian view of post-war Americana by reassembling these things into celebrations of gay male culture and sexuality. Sexual and gender non-conformity is also the subject matter of Kim Tucker. Absurdly hairy, with smiling vulvas and faces in the middle of their chests, her work is disconcerting but surprisingly tender and disarming at the same time.

Alessandro Gallo aims for a different kind of hybridity in his work, combining human bodies and animal heads and arranges his sculptures as they go about ‘normal’ human activities. His work causes one to look twice and consider the humor within the human condition. Similarly, Molly Ann Bishop’s plates depict and commemorate people doing commonplace activities, like yoga and mowing the lawn. These images are then captioned with droll observations and contradictory statements giving them more in common with satirical cartoons than fine china. Like Bishop, Dan McCarthy’s approach, whether he is painting, drawing, or working in ceramics, is characterized by its bold mark making and caricatures. His colorful ‘facepots’ are face jugs for the Instagram age. Working primarily in mixed media and performance Elana Mann creates instruments using casts of body parts. Mann choreographs performers as they play these ‘body instruments’ in productions that are both jovial and committed to challenging political and social injustices.

Image: Alessandro Gallo, “Chris”