The American dream Dufala style

Billy Blaise Dufala and Steven Dufala
Billy Blaise Dufala and Steven Dufala

Brothers and collaborators Billy Blaise Dufala and Steven Dufala have to be the two most unlikely PAFA grads ever. Their surprising art about the world around us–the homeless, bad taste and inflated lawn ornaments, the beauty of tools, and the dehumanization of the medical system and the body–is in this year’s Fleisher Challenge 3, up until Feb. 9.

In the past, the Dufalas brought us toilet tricycles, a giant grater that looks like clumsy armor from a Monty Python skit, and a rusty dumpster with mendhi-like decorations and an upholstered interior.

Each of the objects also suggests the best and the worst about being in a physical body, a la Tim Hawkinson.

Billy Blaise Dufala and Steven Dufala. The hammer is unusually finished for a Dufala piece, and becomes a joke about headless torsos. The rough wooden topping for the pedestal serves as a counterpoint.

So it is with their exhibit at Challenge 3. The smooth wooden handle of a distorted hammer becomes a gently curved torso, the head becomes the feet.


The matches in a giant match book become the audience at a rock concert, each ready to ignite a salute to the performers. The giant staple holding this matchbook together–fat and slightly awkward–is a thing of beauty in and of itself. The face on each match head serves as a sort of ad hoc emoticon, turning every match into a dazed, undifferentiated zombies of the digital age.


The most successful of these metaphoric humans are the least literal and the most hand-made looking. So an extended synechdoche–a rifle in a cast on a compressed bed becomes the symbol for the psychic detachment of the medical system as well as a commentary on guns. It seems too didactic and obvious, and lacks the charm of some of the other pieces, which deliver their more-open messages in seductive form. But I loved the suggestion of a torso shape in the drip bag, and the way the bed itself was a trolley for medication and a gurney and an isolette.


The snow-globe lawn ornament housing a homeless figure, almost transcends its own literalness, pushing into the world of values, taste, waste, romanticism and the American Dream. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for humor, and it’s the humor that buoys this piece, with its soapy “snowflakes” muddling around the bottom of the inflated, Merry Little Christmas lawn bauble, situated in front of an iconic, two-D house made of photos of homeless sleepers wheat-pasted on the wall. The message again is a little too obvious.

I like when the brothers re-imagine their juicy objects, until they turn into poetry, highlighting things we often forget to look at and making us think about them in new ways.

Billy Blaise Dufala and Steven Dufala

A drawing of a stretch-torso homeless man, naked in the bushes, drops a Carvel swirl of poop. The piece, is at once pristine and anti-pristine. It’s a cartoon and it’s a thing, all at once. Here the homeless man becomes Adam in the Garden of Eden, and a beautiful creature that’s half-beast, half human.


The pedestal beneath him is simultaneously pristine and anti-pristine, covered around the top with rough wood. The pedestals have all been transformed for this exhibit by the brothers, taking some of the starch out of the arty, precious format; at the same time that they reference Brancusi’s non-standard pedestals.

I also fell for the bulletin board of drawings, sketches and plans. It’s a giveaway, explained on the nearby stack of file folders with their please-take message. I took one drawing and inserted it in a file folder and took it home, as suggested.

The Dufalas stood out for their originality and gusto–and straightforward looking at the world around them–in this Challenge. The two other artists:

Fungus-like organisms destroying a wall in Laura M. Haight’s sci-fi fantasy of a biomorphic world take-over.

Laura M. Haight’s sci-fi fancy of a fungus taking over the world shown most brightly with the lights in the wall fungus, which turned on as I approached. Alas, the mixed-media images of bodies with lichen-like and disease-like growths had a yuck factor that stuck pretty closely to conventional academic and text-book images of the body. The whole back-story was a nice beginning for setting up a new world order, kind of the way that Matthew Ritchie goes off into some fantastical place to give a context for his installations.

Jury Smith, ceramic

Jury Smith’s earthenware eggy-rocks, with their nice glazes and sense of balance and relationship also nibble too delicately at a broader context provided by a couple of drips and some lines suggesting longitudes and latitudes.

Shelley Spector preview for the next Challenge–the record spins and gramophone music comes out!

Fleisher Challenge 4 will include photographs by Judy Gelles (she opened last week at Moore College with a new video and photographs), an installation by Erica Zoë Loustau, and Shelley Spector’s new sculptures and prints. I saw them in her studio the other day. Wow.