Revolutions in the art of three women – at Vox

Just when you thought you had artists boxed up neatly and tied in a little bow, they force you to rethink them and their oeuvre. So it is this month at Vox Populi, with big shifts in the work on exhibit by three of the member artists–Leah Bailis, Kate Stewart and Kara Crombie.   Experimenting and changing course is not for everyone.  We are wowed at these risky shifts and wonder what comes next.

Leah Bailis, Death in Venice, photo of the artist dressed as the movie character – pathos and longing before death

Leah Bailis has shifted from austere, architectural niblets of home sweet home to some seriously magical thinking about self-deluding romanticism. The shift from icy cold to ironic panting hot in her show Magical Thinking is shocking and fun and definitely a hit! People buzzing around the opening were delighted with Bailis’ self-portraits in drag, in which she takes a Cindy Sherman turn to capture the final moment of thwarted longing from the movie version of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The faux movie stills undercut the romanticism with foolishness and foppishness at the moment of death–a literal and symbolic heart attack.

Leah Bailis, gothic horror and romance in this sculpture based on the movie Ordet

Irony also infuses Bailis’ sculpture of two heads kissing and consuming each other in a creepy over-the-top romanticism. One head has a lively mirror ball surface, the other, a deathstar absorbent black finish. The mirrors scatter a protoplasmic array of circles on the walls of the gallery, bringing to life a quivering, delicate environment for the brooding life vs. death drama of the sculpture. The back story to this sculpture is also from films, inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, but the sculpture stands on its own. Bailis was one of last year’s West Prize finalists.

Kate Stewart, Gotterdammerung, installation at Vox. The people are gallery goers. Photo courtesy the artist.

Kate Stewart also has done something new in her Götterdämmerung (translated – end of the world) installation. Enlarging on her familiar theme of domestic comfort and self-delusion amid environmental disaster, she sodded the gallery floor with a layer of dirt and grass that looks and smells like it comes from a city park. Real plants grow inside the walls patterned to suggest dense foliage and rococo decor.

Kate Stewart’s installation before the people arrived. Photo courtesy the artist.

On First Friday, the grass was occupied, wall-to-wall, with gallery goers picnicking and relaxing on the lawn–apres diner sur l’herbe. The crush of humanity in the compressed space further clarifies the nature of the disaster, adding texture to the usual eco themes. Not your usual isolationist survivalism.

Kara Crombie’s animations in Mother’s Birthday are quite different from the live actors and realistic settings we had seen her use previously in her videos. We will shortly have a post by Edward Epstein about Crombie’s show. She just won a Pew fellowship on the basis of these animations.

Also at Vox this month, drawings and installation by Raleigh, NC artist Bill Thelen. He is the director and co-founder of the artist-run space, Lump. And in the Video Lounge, there is work by Brooklyn-based artist Sari Carel.