Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Arts

'Phantom Bodies' show at Ringling Museum brings substance to the ephemeral

SARASOTA

Though its name might suggest it, don't look for an examination of the paranormal in "Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in Art" at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

Yes, it has ghostly images, but they are created by fully disclosed technical processes.

Instead, look for an examination of the physicality of the human experience and the immutable common denominator we share: Death claims everyone. What do we claim before that?

The 24 artists in the exhibition have some ideas. All their work deserves a conversation, and there are big names in contemporary art here — Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Gerhard Richter, for example — but here are some of my favorites.

The most enchanting work in "Phantom Bodies" greets us at the entrance. Elizabeth King's Pupil is an articulated torso of a doll whose face is a self-portrait of the artist. In an accompanying video, she works with director Richard Izu-Blair to bring the sculpture to life. It studies its hands with a sense of curiosity, even wonder, as a baby might. We know as we watch that the only life it possesses is that given by its creator, who manipulates its motions. Yet its title is telling: That temporary life-force isn't a learning experience for the sculpture but it is, perhaps, for its maker.

Nearby is Exquisite Corpse, enfant by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. I know it's serious art but I found it weirdly wonderful and amusing. Its name comes from the famous surrealist game in which a collaborative drawing or story is made without the participants knowing what each other is doing. This assemblage looks equally random. Speakers emitting a low howl are draped with safety pins, screwdriver, can opener, a small plastic baby rocking in a basket. ... You can spend five minutes picking out all the quotidian objects. Specifically, there are several ocular accessories such as eyeglasses and a magnifier. An eye stares at us from one of them. We gaze and are gazed upon. What I see are the daily objects we use and what I hear is the background noise we tune out. Maybe we should pay more attention.

Ken Gonzales-Day bears witness to the history of lynching in 19th and 20th century America. Part of a gallery wall is covered with vintage photographs and postcards(!) in which the victims' bodies are eliminated and we see only the onlookers. In one manipulated photograph, a circle of onlookers looks at a blank space where the hanged and burned body would be. Some of them are children. In another, well-dressed men gaze at the embers of a fire, another lynch-and-burn scenario without a body, only wisps of smoke.

The most striking image is Medusa, the large photogram by Adam Fuss that is the marquee image for the show's publicity. For good reason. Fuss uses an old, cameraless technique in which an object (or baby in another example in the show) is laid directly onto light-sensitive paper and then exposed to light so that the image is directly transferred. The result resembles a negative. For Medusa, he used a delicate, almost transparent Victorian wedding dress. It looks to be electrified with bright coils of light that, on closer examination, turn out to be writhing snakes, also photogrammed.

The mythical Medusa had similar writhing snakes instead of hair, and her face was so terrifying that one look turned men to stone. According to legend, she lived on an isolated island where Perseus beheaded her and used her head, complete with moving snakes, as a weapon. She was pregnant when she died, and from her dead body sprang two divinities: the winged stallion Pegasus and Crysaor, a warrior who carried a golden sword. Fuss sees her as becoming "life affirming" in death, according to the wall label, through bearing children and the snakes teeming through her body like energy. Ringling curator Matthew McClendon also referenced their spermlike appearance. The visual effect is otherworldly.

There are several excellent videos, but the most stunning is Isolde's Ascension by Bill Viola, inspired by Richard Wagner's operatic version of the legend of two lovers. A beam of light pierces a barely lit pool of water. We watch for a few minutes, then we see a woman crash through the surface and be drawn up into the beam. She rises higher until she disappears from the camera frame. Watch it again and you notice something: The film has been flipped. We're really seeing the young woman dive into the water and float downward. It's mesmerizing.

Actually, I found that quality true of the entire exhibition.

Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

Comments
How to make your own Gasparilla wreath

How to make your own Gasparilla wreath

The denizens of South Tampa sometimes refer to this time of year as Christmas-arilla, extending the life of Christmas decorations. With just a slightly sinister twist, trimmings are repurposed for Gasparilla and the parade of pirates that will wash a...
Published: 01/23/18
Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

ST. PETERSBURGThe bay area’s thriving glass art scene adds another member to its ranks today when the Imagine Museum officially opens in downtown St. Petersburg.Dedicated to the movement of studio glass, the museum is the brainchild of benefactor Tri...
Published: 01/22/18
BMX riders to showcase their artful sport on Gasparilla weekend

BMX riders to showcase their artful sport on Gasparilla weekend

TAMPA — There’s more coming to pile on Gasparilla weekend than just the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game. On Sunday, the day after the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and just as the world’s top hockey players compete at A...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/19/18
‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

TWO-FER: UTOPIAS AND UNFILTEREDMark Thomas Gibson and William Villalongo are New York-based artists whose individual work explores the black experience in America, in both historical and personal contexts. Their work was showcased in the powerful but...
Published: 01/17/18
The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

SARASOTAThere’s no question that war is hell, but as a civilian living in a country that hasn’t had a war on its soil in many, many years, images of the horrors of war can easily be avoided.Not only the act of war itself, but the consequences of it, ...
Published: 01/10/18
Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Societal Shifts: Climate ChangeThe new exhibition opening Friday at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum is not concerned with the hot button issue you’re thinking of. Instead, in "Climate Change: Cuba/USA," Cuban and Cuban-American artists explore the rece...
Published: 01/05/18
Updated: 01/10/18
Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

At the close of a year that many are referring to as a dumpster fire, it’s actually refreshing to look back at the great visual art exhibitions shown in Tampa Bay in 2017. While a few were political in nature or included pieces that were, the e...
Updated one month ago
Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

WELL READ: LITERARY HEROESEvery artists needs a muse, and Sarasota artist Mike Hanlon’s are the world’s great authors. So it’s fitting that Hanlon’s exhibition of large-scale portraits, "Literary Heroes,e_SDRq is on display in Kotler Art Gallery at t...
Updated one month ago
Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

The threshold of a new year is a good time to catch the art exhibitions you may have been too busy to check out. Here are few suggestions. TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART 120 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa; (813)421-8380; tampamuseum.org. TMA has several exhibits ...
Updated one month ago
New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Gateway Gallery and Emporium on Grand Boulevard starts off the new year with a new exhibit featuring the digital photography of David J. Wright. An opening reception will be held Jan. 5 at the studio. The varied works of 24 gal...
Updated one month ago