Summer’s here and the time is right for wearing less than usual — or, if the new show at Winston Wächter Fine Art is any indication, wearing something far from usual.
“Best Dressed/Undressed” is a group exhibit by five Winston Wächter regulars — Stephen O’Donnell, Mielle Riggie, Jules Frazier, Margeaux Walter and Julie Speidel — with East Coast newcomer Jessica Craig-Martin and Chicago guest artist Carmen Lozar rounding out the crew.
The overall tone of the show is light but twisted. O’Donnell’s droll portraits of himself in Louis XVI-era drag, for instance, show off some hefty, hirsute décolletage. His acrylics on panel, “L’Equilibre,” “C’est Mon Chapeau” (“It’s My Hat”) and “La Vermillon” (“Vermilion”), show him in both male and female guises. His meticulous photo-realist technique, put to obsessive absurdist purposes, is a hoot.
Craig-Martin’s comical photographs of upscale summer gatherings in the Hamptons (a hospital benefit, a cancer benefit, etc.) rely on drastic cropping to heighten their grotesque effects. The first thing you think upon seeing “Cancer Benefit, Southampton (Air Kiss),” for instance, is “flesh collision” rather than anything “airy.” The kisser’s face — or what we can see of it — seems to have been distortedly wrenched upon social contact. Her greeting is also gaudily weighed down by the oversized jewelry she’s wearing.
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The most overtly summery pieces may be Seattle-born Walter’s 3-D lenticular photographs whose content shifts as you walk by them. “Vacay” shows four Jacuzzi-immersed young women (all portrayed by the artist) whose rapt attention to their cellphones is briefly disrupted by a hunky waiter who brings them their drinks. “Settlement” is more austere and mysterious: a four-panel portrait of beach sands, with two bikini-clad sunbathers either fully exposed to the sun’s rays or mostly buried under the sand, depending on your vantage point.
Frazier, in her photographs of women at rodeos, explores an entirely different world, but with an equally strong eye for color and composition, and a knack for ambiguous social commentary. Lozar’s small mixed-media sculptures titled “Lipsticks” make a curious comment on feminine artifice with their tiny lipstick-colored female nudes emerging from golden canisters.
Glass artist Riggie puts a spooky spin on a girls-in-their-summer-dresses theme. Her cast-glass ankle-length dresses are free-standing and untenanted. “Hopeful” has a stairway circling around its billowing exterior, leading up to a portal that may be the way into its phantom woman’s heart. In “Bluebird,” the blue dress, with its multiple openings, serves as a kind of cage.
The odd woman out in this show is Speidel, whose angular stainless-steel boulders, all titled “Sahalee Glacier,” are in stark contrast to the rest of the exhibit. They’d look better in an outdoor setting — which is exactly where you’ll be able to find them, when Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island opens its first outdoor-sculpture show. For more info, go to www.bloedelreserve.org.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com