Otherworldy at the Museum of Art and Design

In our attempts to decode new art, we often skip over a fundamental process that helps make art function: false perceptions. Artists often make things that deceive. The metaphysical disconnect between the object that we are looking at and the intellectual experience is the subject of Otherworldly at the Museum of Art & Design, which focuses on dioramas, models, snow globes, and other illusionary sculptures and their accompanying photos and videos.

Rick Araluce. The Longest Hours (detail), 2011. Wood, plastic, paper, mixed media, electronic components, audio components. Courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition is filled with superb work from thirty-eight artists, showing the breadth of this theme. The first topic that jumps out of Otherworldly is dichotomies (both for times real and imagined, future and past, manufactured and natural), followed by nostalgia. There are numerous objects made about the maker’s youth. You can hear the string music and see the soft-focus filters as they sift through impossibly perfect memories of impossibly perfect places. I don’t think we should write off all remembrance as sentimentality, and yet, this show is thick with recording events as they should be remembered rather than how they were. The more the works are preoccupied with nostalgia, the less I feel that they are approachable.

Rick Araluce is one of the standouts from this show, though he mentions that his work may contain nostalgia, I don’t buy it. His dioramas are not memories or as he puts it, he is “not trying to create an historical scenario.” His “poetic, textural, miniature world” seems empty and full at the same time. Instead of centering on feigning space or time, his sculptures create scenes charged with potentialities. This scene could be a horror movie or a family home. His interest in subliminal context rather than panoramas is furthered by half-finished models permeated with empty space and open-ended devices.

Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw, editors of the Chadwick Family Papers . The Golden-Age Microbrewery, 2008. Wood, found objects, balsa wood, paint, fabric, plaster. Courtesy of Winkleman Gallery, New York.

The ChadwicksGolden-Age Microbrewery is a complicated mess, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. The model for the kitchen is captured in video and photographs as the two editors of the Chadwicks’ papers recreate a model of a Dutch kitchen and then read a written text while throwing around objects from Dutch paintings (Peach pit, chicken leg, lemon, spoon: Beware the floor where pewter’s strewn). This work is thick with historical references and forms a disorderly slurry that forces multiple viewings in order to take it all in. The two editors interactions with the model are as interesting as the object, the film, or the photos.

The Chadwicks are focused not on nostalgia, or even the ironic hipster version of mustache having, iconoclastic, genre blending retro-futurism. They are nerdy historically minded visual researchers who are led by their material to create work in their own voice. Should we accuse Gilbert and George of nostalgia? I believe that the Chadwicks fit the model created by Gilbert and George in their devotion to the document and in their persistent drive to create formally and socially compelling art.

Bethany de Forest and Robin Noorda. Raspberry field, 2009 (still from Red-End and the Seemingly Symbiotic Society). Digital animated film; Time: 14’35. Courtesy of the artists.

Bethany de Forest‘s brightly colored video, photos, and sculptures are in stark contrast to the weathered realism elsewhere in the show. She uses non-art materials (mostly food items) to create landscapes that form believable proportions, but are unrecognizable fantasies. Her landscapes slip into hazy dreamscapes filled with anthropomorphic insects in conflict. Her pin hole camera images of cars rushing around on unusual highways with repeating inverted Eiffel towers reveals how these works are made. She builds small boxes with mirrored walls, allowing the scene to repeat in the reflections. They are memorable visions that are inventive and hallucinatory.

Gregory Euclide. held within what hung open and made to lie without escape, 2011. Acrylic, acrylic caulk, cast paper, fern, foam, goldenrod, hosta, moss, paper, pencil, PETG, sedum, sponge, wood. Courtesy of the artist; David B. Smith Gallery, Seattle. Photo: Ed Watkins.

Gregory Euclide‘s mutated painting spills off of the wall and on to the floor. His landscapes are created with a balanced level of abstraction and environmental lecture and are still aesthetically absorbing. In this landscape the image has overfilled its frame, the water runing over the edge of the frame and on to the floor. The floor has plastic bottles filled with sand and trees cut from flat white paper. At the other end of the floor sculpture is another waterfall, running through a landscape held up by thin wooden sticks. Both water sources meet in the middle of a landscape of invasive species and simulated rocks that were cast from boulders in central park.

Patrick Jacobs. Room with Radiator, 2011. Wood, extruded styrene, acrylic, hair, paper, ash, talc, starch, acrylite, vinyl film, copper, steel, lighting, BK7 glass. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrick Jacobs‘s work runs in two veins: urban interiors and picturesque landscapes. They are captured and viewed behind a curved glass that exaggerates and increases their intended effect. Where de Forest’s work stays within natural proportions, Jacobs shatters any level of plausible depth. You see a two to three inch piece of glass that is holding a whole field or a room in an apartment. The full-size world is brought down to fantasy size fitting into a bubble embedded into the wall.

Jacobs’s work depends on captivating visions that recognize both sides of the ugly and beauty polarity. The urban apartment is attractive and the rosebush is harsh in his hands. He makes both subjects startling and nervous, even though the scene is silent and motionless. That silence is not relaxed, it may have to do with the “strangely tactile reality” he is able to produce. This tangible reminder of the physical exists only in our minds. The bubble is not in the wall, where an object is, but in what and how we perceive his sculpture. This psychological distortion is attractive, an intangible falseness that can neither be grasped nor distinguished as real or fake. We can just regard this experience and the repercussions hidden within it.