Art Seen

Forum 61: Lowry Burgess

at the Carnegie Museum of Art through March 23

If the name Lowry Burgess rings a bell, it's probably because he's the first artist to exhibit in outer space1. He was also one of my professors at Carnegie Mellon when I was a student there. Professor Burgess was simultaneously my most infuriating and rewarding professor — infuriating because the way we thought about things was so far apart, but rewarding because when I could bring myself around to his way of thinking the rewards were far greater than those.

Burgess's life-long work is "The Quiet Axis," a series of strange sculptures and performances beautiful in almost every conceivable way. They've included the aforementioned work included in space (a cube of ice made from the waters of the world's great rivers), holograms of lilies generated and buried beneath the Afghan desert, biological "seeds" placed at the top of a mountain in Greece and at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Mediterranean.

The four paintings on exhibit here are not part of "The Quiet Axis" per se, but rather representations of the mystical visions which drove him to create various components of the larger work. The paintings themselves are fascinating, rendered in a way that's evocative of religious icons or some complex eschatalogical diagram. While less fascinating than the larger work they reference, they're certianly a good starting point that will leave viewers tantalized and curious about Burgess's work.

Forum 61 continues at the Carnegie through March 23rd.

Ron Mueck

at the Andy Warhol Museum through March 30

Ron Mueck is an Australian artist who specializes in hyperrealistic sculptures of the human figure — or rather, sculptures that would be hyperrealistic, if they scale weren't wildly distorted. Some figures are so small that they'd barely reach your knee, while others would be nearly 50' tall if they stood up.

At first glance, you might be reminded of the hyperrealist sculptures of Duane Hanson, but Mueck's works are hyperrealistic in a way that Hanson's are not. Their luminous fiberglass skin practically glows with vitality, you can see veins, freckles, pores, and even in one case a tiny scab. Individualized fibers have been carefully inserted in a way that simulates real body hair, and teased to behave like real body hairs. Lips are gloriously mucous, teeth yellowed and stained, eyes have heavy bags under them, toenails are ragged and haphazardly clipped, hair are randomly disclored or graying. Even though the figures are obviously artificial, you wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they were to stand up and start moving.

Hanson's works are also glib and facile — once you get them, there's nothing underneath the surface to discover. Mueck's work is filled with tantalizing ambiguities. Is the smushed face of Mask II sleeping blissfully, or scrunched up in agony as it appears to be from lower angles? Is A Girl glaring malevolently, helplessly — or are you merely projecting emotion on the face of a newborn babe? . Is the distracted expresson of the woman In Bed worried, wistful, or something else besides?

The Warhol curators have also done an excellent job of arranging the works in a way that highlights their relations with each other, as well as to the other works on display.. On the seventh floor, the unfocused gaze of the woman In Bed seems to fall on the seated figure of the Wild Man, and may be returned by his nervous glance as well. Man in a Boat is placed in a hallway on the fifth floor that's normally decorated with pink panda wallpaper — but for the moment, it's been redecorated with a thematicall appropriate fish print. And A Girl sits on the second floor, surrounded by Warhol sketches of motherhood and several memento mori.

Ron Mueck's solo exhibition continues at the Warhol through March 30th and is well worth a visit.2 For more information about Ron Mueck, you can check out the latest issue of Hi-Fructose magazine, or any of several books about the artist and his work.

  1. Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture, mixed media, 1989.
  2. Actually, the Warhol itself is well worth a visit, especially since they appear to have shuffled a number of the works in their permanent collection recently.

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