I already knew of one show I was going to see on First Friday in the Blue Star Arts Complex: No Country for Old Tippi, Chris McKnight’s collection of photographs at Three Walls Gallery. Last year, McKnight lit out across country, accompanied by his Tippi Hedren Barbie in full-on Birds gear — including to-scale crows in attack mode attached to her hair and suit. He photographed her in situ on sunny beaches, grey Boston streetcorners, and in Monument Valley. I went and looked at the photos before install, but in their gallery setting (see Artifacts blog, blogs.sacurrent.com/?cat=5, for a short video) but within the stark confines of Three Walls, they’re another critter altogether.
I tend to dislike the use of doll parts in contemporary art. Many differ, but I almost always find plastic baby limbs and disembodied toy heads a schlocky shorthand for, oh, violence, say, or inner wounds, or the commodification of the body, or a Goth teenagerhood. Not in this case, though. The conceit of No Country is terrific, witty and fanciful, but the photographs’ execution is even better; McNight’s a master at staging each photograph to make Tippi appear credibly person-sized, a mysterious and near-melancholy observer/model rather than a miniaturized plastic object set into a landscape. No Country for Old Tippi sets our heroine in the vast stark beauty of West Texas, which suits her particularly; McKnight’s Tippi doll is a man-made emblem of a highly stylized Cold War femininity, and beyond that, this edition of Barbie is portraying a fictional character — a Hitchcock blonde, yet. To set this rarefied artifact-within-artifact against the wide-open spaces around Marfa (and, OK, against Marfa Prada and in the Donald Judd hangars at Chinati), brings up all kinds of deep questions about culture, nature, and image.
Cactus Bra SPACE
Another artist of the stylized human body is Jung Mun. She’s exhibited a lot the past few years, springing from the art department at UTSA right into the David Shelton Gallery, FL!GHT, The Southwest School of Art, the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, Justice Works, the Chamber of Commerce, and beyond. The sheer volume of work she puts out there, and its immediate, unmistakeable recognizability, remind me of a young Regis Shephard.
However, I think it’d be a good idea for Jung Mun to slow down, to show less, and to work on fewer pieces with greater discernment. She has a massive talent; her imagination is enormous, fertile, and idiosyncratic — she’s documenting a completely new, self-generated world. Confabulations includes Mun’s signature convolutions of abstraction and the body, and while they’re very good and cover new ground, physically (eyeball-licking, mutiple eye views per profile, the habits of the body growing darker and more ravenous), her soft-focus pencil sketching lacks vigor. She needs a stronger line. In some prints she’s showed at both David Shelton and in Jake Zollie Harper’s space at Gallista, she amalgamated body parts in strong, graphic, muscular lines, all in monochromatic blue. These images blew me away.
Many of her graphite facial renderings, often of children, are soft, whispery, sketchy, overworked, and inexact. Her abstractions demonstrate what an uncanny colorist she is, but the sketched anthropomorphic figures often don’t reward the viewer on close inspection: her cross-hatching is student-level (well, Jeez here’s the thing: she’s barely out of school), and her shading lacks depth. There’s true poetry in Confabulation — and one of the paintings, a gold-backed portrait of an enigmatic, crypto-heroic little boy, shines especially bright — but her pencil line has yet to become equal to the task of sufficiently relating her extraordinary ideas.
Chris McKnight: No Country for Old Tippi
106D Blue Star Arts Complex
by appointment only
Jung Mun: Confabulation: love you to death
Through Nov 21 at Cactus Bra SPACE
106C Blue Star Arts Complex
by appointment only
See the artifacts blog for more First Friday roundup!