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Poles Apart 

As an icon of art history, Michelangelo's statue of David ranks right up there with his Sistine Chapel ceiling, Leonardo's Mona Lisa and the like. So what if Michelangelo's version looks more like a surfer muscle boy than an ancient king of the Jews; it's definitely a classic, magnum opus, in any number of ways. Yet, shrink it down to a size that would fit on a shelf, and disturbing, diabolically kitschy things start to happen. A staple at flea markets, garage sales and tourist shops, those pint-size Davids are always dubious, no matter how true to the original.

Artist Elizabeth Shannon began receiving them as gifts from a couple of especially devious artist friends who made regular trips to Florence. As her David replicas of various sizes accumulated, their presence eventually motivated her to research the life and paradoxical persona of the ancient Hebrew king, which in turn led her to transform them into the peculiar permutations seen in this Heriard-Cimino show. Shannon says it's all about the "complexity and ambiguity of human experience," yet it's not so easy to say what experiences are represented in this distinctive yet campy series of conceptual installations and photographs.

In David Has Left the Building, one of those faux-Michelangelo statues appears in an Elvis-like cape, and in fact it's subtitled "25th Anniversary of Elvis' Death." He wears a little pouch with a stone in it, which might remind us of the Bible story if it weren't dangling against bare flanks under a half open cape, making him look more like a go-go boy. Presumably the message is that while people may always need heroes, celebrity is always shallow. Similar sentiments appear in Thou Art the Man ("The Original Alpha Male Superstar") in which David dons an outfit that might give pause to even a James Brown or Michael Jackson, as well as in Double Bind ("The Sacred and Profane that Tugs at Each of Us") in which chains and silver paint somehow evoke the Village People. Shannon is at her best when working in a more minimal mode, and if gift shop faux-Davids are cheesy to start with, camped up versions may be overkill. Or does the negation of a negative equal a positive? That's one for the algebra of personal taste, yet fans of her earlier work may find all this a tad disorienting, regardless.

Further dislocations appear down the street at LeMieux, where Arthur Silverman's sculptures are on view. If his gallery venue has changed, Silverman's work still involves his ongoing explorations of the tetrahedron, a form that in his hands becomes illusionistic, with contours that twist in and out like convoluted Japanese paper sculptures, or experiments in modern architectural contortionism. At his most dynamic, Silverman hints at those unknown zones found in the graphics of M.C. Escher or the fugal musical fantasies of J.S. Bach. His more minimal or static work is sometimes monumental, as seen in his public sculptures about town. Most of the work at this LeMieux show is similar in style, if smaller in scale.

If Silverman's sculpture suggests high modernism with a novel twist, John Geldersma's Spirit Poles at Marguerite Oestreicher take us back to something far more tribal. Most pre-industrial societies harnessed their collective energy through the art and ritual that was their version of technology, and Geldersma has long paid tribute to their aesthetic accomplishments with his own colorful creations. Some, such as his Prayer Sticks, suggest totems with banded shafts and cast metal discs or crosses on top, while others such as his Spirit Poles are minimal: tall, slinky poles from the swamps around his bayou country domain, painted and finished with the polychrome intensity of coral snakes. Actually, some are now cast in bronze, though the effect is somewhat similar.

They could be taken as mere decoration, but at least some of Geldersma's prismatic poles and totems seem to emit a certain charge, a mojo or charisma that harks to the swamps of their origins, to the wild and untamed spirits that haunt these parts. It's a quality that, at their best, takes them to another, perhaps unexpected, level of intensity.

click to enlarge John Geldersma's Spirit Poles have a tribal quality about them, an example of his appreciation for the aesthetic accomplishments of pre-industrial societies.
  • John Geldersma's Spirit Poles have a tribal quality about them, an example of his appreciation for the aesthetic accomplishments of pre-industrial societies.
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