January 21, 2018

Review: Webster’s DADAH exhibit

Webster’s Department of Art, Design, and Art History (DADAH) held an art exhibition on Saturday, December 2nd. The DADAH exhibit was on their Gateway campus on Olive Street. The showcase featured works by art professors and other various members of the community. I decided I would be up to the task of reviewing it.

Immediately greeted by a security guard stationed on a rickety chair, I was unsure if she was an installation, perhaps a Marina Abramovic-esque addition to the pieces. I would later find out she was not. However, the objects that were actually installations had helpful plaques with a number next to them, indicating that they were, in fact, one of the exhibitions. Corresponding with this number, a sheet was available up front, an itinerary with the number, along with the piece’s name and artist on it. Thanks to this, there was no more confusion.

Walking aimlessly around the studio, it became clear I was now surrounded by Webster’s Elite: the Provost Julian Schuster, celebrated art professors, probable boat owners. It had finally hit, I was now one of them, the blessed Websterians.

Wearing this new persona, I found it to be a good time to get around to looking at some of the art. Initially overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the event; the studio space was pretty large and featured almost 30 pieces, many of them extending to multiple areas of the room, so it took some focus.

Photo credit: Ian Scott

Photo credit: Ian Scott. Art: Daniel McGrath’s Harvey Weinstein.

I was first drawn to Daniel McGrath’s Harvey Weinstein, an effigy situated in the front of the room, hanging from the ceiling. The man depicted was a pinkish, bloated mess of a person, donning only a white bathrobe and holding a lonely looking script.

Nearby was a towering chimney-like apparatus with two legs dressed in khakis and loafers peeping out, propped on a tower of books. A neon puff of smoke was emitting from the top, which explains the title of the piece, Puff of Smoke, by Brian Zimmerman.

Further down the room was a series of high fashion renderings, all pasted on the floor in a line, extending for about ten yards. This was Seth Wiener’s Vaporous Evening Dresses Model 27-28. It was so subtly placed onto the floor that I almost accidentally stepped on it twice. Assuming this wasn’t some sort of interactive exhibit, in which active participation is encouraged, it is better I left it untouched.

What struck me then was the fearlessness artists had in using multiple forms of media in their pieces. Gone were the Parisian Saloons of old, bogged down by rigid rules for painting and sculpting, in were the free-for-alls of St. Louis expos, where creativity and innovation ran wild, rules were discarded, and the discarded rules were made into more art.

In between these wanderings and musings were my encounters with the servers, all of them sporting black turtlenecks and serving sparkling apple juice (in this case the equivalent of a fake cigarette found on movie sets) meant to resemble champagne, and platters of fancy looking chocolate. These snacks — though perhaps draining my mystique I was quite intent on presenting to the Webster art patrons — were quite tasty, and I had many helpings. Nobody ever said that patricians couldn’t eat; in fact, it’s estimated that esteemed pianist and composer Glenn Gould would eat over one meal a day.

I hadn’t even gotten into the heavyweights of the showcase, most notably Gary Passanise’s Portrait of God, Optical Heaven. Anything less than a behemoth of a piece would have been a letdown, as the title is filled with big ticket words. Anything with God, Optical, etc. has a big order ahead of them, and this piece delivered.

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Photo credit: Ian Scott. Art: Gary Passanise’s Portrait of God, Optical Heaven.

Utilizing found art (art that utilizes everyday items) practices, Passanise’s surreal lighting, jarring tree remains and religious imagery looked like it could have found its way onto the set of Mother!, much less an art gallery. Set to a backdrop of apocalyptic orange and crew paint, evoking magma, the piece terrifies, intimidates, and inspires.

There were other highlights, Shawn Burkard’s Instagram Boner, Noriko Yuasa’s KOTODAMA and Jeri Au’s Other’s Story to name a few. The variety of mediums utilized in the showcase was refreshing, including a piece featuring an actual human installation, Art and Evidence of the Life of Dr. Olive B. Leuwing by Carol Hodson (it was a series of photos and objects, all revolving around Olive Leuwing, and featuring Mrs. Leuwing herself, an actual human installation).

Leaving the gallery, the piece that stuck with me and inspired the most talk on the drive home, was Igor Karash’s Drakon, Picture Books; it led me around in circles for the remainder of the evening. Always peering through my handy Euro-normative art goggles, I found the piece to evoke early George Grosz, at least on the left side, two haunting figures sitting in a wooden chair, tinted in noir black and white, each equipped with a gas mask (immediately evoking thoughts of WWI soldiers in the trenches, more Grosz). On the other side of the painting was a jarringly pink backdrop, with a drearily sprawling suburbia placed on top and a legged creature patrolling the sky, a creature that captures Terry Gilliam at his silliest and most surreal. What does this mean?

It was then I realized the gallery was a success; I left with a full stomach and a filled mind, one with chocolate and juice, the other with burning questions and pompous answers, respectively. I also held it together long enough to hobnob with the elites of Webster’s art scene, with limited faux paux and no appearances of the phrase “Sir, you are making a scene.” Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long for the next gallery, and more importantly, I can remember where I parked.

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  • Amy Whited-Hylton

    Actually, most of the DADAH folks I know encourage a good scene-making. When they aren’t off on their boats, that is.