In his 1910 essay "The New Laokoön," modernist critic Irving Babbitt decried the literary Romantics for what he termed their "suggestiveness"—their mystifications, neglect of neoclassical decorum, substitution of the sensuous over the rational and refusal to respect boundaries between the arts. Riffing off this New Humanist ideal and the word created by its staunchest advocate, artist and curator Nathan Spoor culled more than 50 artists whom he feels represent suggestiveness, or—to be precise—creators who perpetuate ambiguous narratives within highly illustrative storytelling, bending rationale every which way in an effort to generate an organic sensory response in the viewer.
The result of Spoor's three-year-long curatorial expedition is in "Suggestivism," a new exhibit at the Grand Central Art Center that offers an explosion of eye candy: vibrant realms and worlds filled with creatures and caricatures that evoke awe and inspire enchantment, and they all have a story to tell. Brendan Monroe's wall-length Almost Complete Manifest is a chunky, swirly, drippy prostrate humanoid who appears to be in the final stages of composition, much like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers pod person, and it elicits a similar sense of unnerving caution. Similarly, Gregory Jacobsen's cornucopia of slimy vegetables, fish heads and what appear to be internal organs, Squirming Pile, is fascinatingly bothersome, especially when there's hair on things that don't really seem like they should have any. Speaking of probably-should-nots, Esao Andrews' multibreasted Milkmaid's Daughter, in which we find a shapely pair of legs topped by 11 or so mammilla, is a smartly disturbing carny treatment of a gal who, unfortunately, probably represents the primary focus of many a male mind.
Moving into less gruesome and more picturesque worlds, Mario Martinez's Mental and Material Realms offers a trip into a pastel-colored, eco-friendly universe in which greenery and soft geometric planets and hubs merge into inviting organic habitats; conversely, Spoor presents a darker, although equally magical, counterpart with his Suddenly, a coolly somber visit to two enormous tree cities dotted with encapsulated houses and occupants.
"Suggestivism," www.grandcentralartcenter.com. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri.Sat.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Through April 17. Free.
Unusual portraiture is also on hand with Carrie Ann Baade's exquisite Lady or Tiger, a deftly skilled oil of what appear to be gorgeous Siamese-twin ladies dressed in all their finery, which includes a tiger-skin wrap, complete with attached mitten paws and tiger-head hat. (If the bent of this show is to provoke our minds to create backstory, this piece in particular should arouse a host of alluring fictions.) Not far behind on the suggestivist path is Robin Williams' Ornamented Boy, a large-scale oil of a pensive blond outfitted in a shiny red hoodie and a neck full of silver baubles. At first glance, it may evoke a Nicholas Roeg Tommy flashback (if you have the frame of reference), and upon closer inspection of the glinting braces and reflective, innocent eyes, it requires unfettered praise for its craftsmanship.
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Funky animals make an appearance as well—and offer us even more surreal storylines to ponder. In Todd Schorr's An Ape Allegory, we get his signature vaudevillian take on holiday mythology as a pink-bunny-suited ape with tentacled Easter eggs attempts to beguile a damsel who'll soon be swept into a rocketship by a green, alien-brained Santa Claus. Don't miss the satirical details—especially the crucified ape atop "Mt. Kringle." Bunnies are the thing, indeed, and in Michael Brown's superbly wrought Neapolitan, we find three of the cottontails stacked snuggly atop one another and eyeing us serenely. Liz McGrath's sculpture of a push-me/pull-me doe in The White Deer is another curious docile creature. Constructed of sewn suede legs footed with Victorian boots, the fuzzy, dog-eared hoofer has a belly implanted with a turn-of-the-century lady mourner sitting on a bench in the midst of a cemetery that is so very Katherine Mansfield and so very brilliant.
Pushing back from vibrancy and highlighting what would at first be dismissed as mundane, Sandow Birk's acrylic Pleasant Valley Prison, Coalinga, CA is a picturesque landscape of the succulent desert—until we notice the miniscule white buildings in the distance that house a trove of murderers and thieves. Thomas Doyle also pulls a fast one with his sculpture Slightings: From the front, this plastic-domed model of a lovely yellow house and manicured yard with two prospective buyers peeping about seems idyllic; on the backside, we find the house is merely a front to a treacherous rocky cliff with a swirly tide below—and it's a metaphor that has universal appeal.
Also of note are Francesco Lo Castro's electronica-inspired poster art V, a triage of female faces centered among starbursts and glitter; Chris Ryniak's gremlin-y Low Pressure System; and Jason Maloney's early Valentine to us, Half of Everything, in which we find out just how far a disgruntled ex-lover will go when it comes to sharing the house pets. There's much more, of course, and each unique piece inspires enough demented fantasies and twisted narratives to blow your mind; they certainly would have blown Babbitt's stack.
This review appeared in print as "In the Realm of the Senses: The Grand Central Art Center’s ‘Suggestivism’ titillates them all."