Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination

Meghan Brody, In a Garden So Green, 1998.

Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination includes approximately sixty works by contemporary artists from around the world who have conceived humanlike, animal, or hybrid creatures to symbolize life’s mysteries, desires, and fears. The invented creatures and imaginary worlds featured in this exhibition have been inspired by oral and written sources as diverse as Aesop’s Fables, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, science fiction, and the products of the genetic experimentation in science. The artists selected for the exhibition redirect the emotional associations implicit in their sources–pleasure, fear, wonder, curiosity, and longing–to works of seductive fantasy and uneasy intrigue.

The exhibition is divided into three discrete sections:

Section I: The Fairy Tale
The first section of the exhibition focuses on artists whose works adapt, interpret, or critique traditional fairy tales and nursery rhymes. While questioning the socializing functions of fairy tales that perpetuate sexual and racial stereotypes, these works also explore folklore as archetypal expressions of subliminal fears and desires. Artists featured in this section include Winnipeg born artist Marcel Dzama whose wood and glazed ceramic sculptures promise little happy-forever-after. As Joseph Wolin (Canadian Art, Fall 2008) remarks: “Dzama appears to have left behind the whimsy of his earlier, hermetic creations for darker mode that acknowledges the darker work outside.” Kiki Smith, a German-born American artist, aligns herself sympathetically with both fallen women as well as heroines of fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood. Her work, Daughter (1999) provides us with multiple versions of Red Riding Hood, who is not simply heroic but fleshed out in different contexts. Other artists in this section include: Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz, Tom Sachs, Paula Rego, and Cindy Sherman.

Section II: Monsters
The artists in Section II explore the depiction of the monster as a sign of the threatening “other” or of the uncontrollable forces of the psyche. The diversity of their imagery reflects the multiple associations of the word “monster,” which comes from the Latin verb monere, “to warn.” A self-described feminist artist Meghan Brody employs the syntax of the fairy tale to create psychosocial allegories of passage between the inner and outer realms. Featured in the exhibition are several series of extraordinary photos which place strange characters in worlds in which they do not fit. New York based artist Inka Essenhigh explores historical practice in light of contemporary events. Her Brush with Death (2004) infers the great Spanish Baroque painter Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War (c. 1810-1820), but reincarnates the monster as an embodiment of contemporary horror, the recent war in Iraq. Her response has personal basis and speaks to the fear she experienced when her husband, artist Steve Mumford, embedded himself with American troops In Iraq to capture their stories in drawings and paintings. Work by Mark Hosford, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Andre Ethier, David Altmejd, Ashley Bickerton, Kate Clark, and Dino and Jake Chapman are also featured in this section.

Section III: The Genetic Imagination
As the exhibition moves from superstition to fantasy to potential reality, its final section features artists’ depictions of new chimerae, which evoke the hybrid human/animals of old, while reflecting actual scientific developments toward the redefinition of life, especially in the field of genetic engineering. Australian artist, Patricia Piccinini investigates aspects of science, art and fantasy within her work, lending a bizarre yet charming quality to her creations fashioned out of silicone, fibreglass, hair, plywood and leather. Her Still Life with Stem Cells (2002) provides us with a cautionary note about our own unpreparedness in dealing ethically and humanely with the results of our scientific adventurism. Like Inka Essenhigh, Yinka Shonibare, is also inspired by the art of Francisco de Goya. Shonibare’s photograph The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (America) (2008), responds to Goya’s similarly titled painting from 1799, and reflects the monsters unleashed under the aegis of the Enlightenment: racism, slavery, war, economic exploitation, and other blights of Western history. Also representing this theme are works by Janaina Tschäpe, Saya Woolfalk, Aziz & Cucher, Suzanne Anker, Charlie White, Motohiko Odani, Allison Schulnik, and Amy Stein.

Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination has been organized by the Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany this exhibition featuring an introduction and overview by Mark W. Scala, Chief Curator at the Frist Center, along with essays on the exhibition theme by distinguished scholars in the fields of art history, fairy tale and monster literature, and art’s relationship to science.

FRINGE PROMO: Get $2 off WAG admission! Present your ticket stub from any Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival 2012 performance at the WAG front desk to receive discount. Offer valid July 18-29, 2012.

Click here for an exhibiton review by Alison Mayes, Winnipeg Free Press

Click here for an exhibiton review by Alison Gillmor, CBC

Sponsored By

Amy Stein, Watering Hole, 2005.

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