Saturday, October 6, 2018

Welcome to Issue 21 of ProWax Journal

With this issue it is my pleasure to note that we mark five years as a more-or-less quarterly publication. Thanks to the internet, the PWJ staff has from the beginning met online and produced ProWax Journal electronically. We are immensely proud of every issue. As the editor in chief, it is also my responsibility to let you know that this issue is our last. (Well, for now. Maybe.) But focusing first on the positive, let's look at what Number 21 holds.    —Joanne Mattera

In this issue

In her Q&A feature, always an inspirational reveal into
an artist's thinking, Nancy Natale visits with 
Christine Shannon Aaron, whose aesthetic development, 
slow and steady, recently exploded into a frenzy of 
brilliantly conceived art and ideas.

Writes Nancy: "Our recent experience together in the small 
group of friends organizing Binnie Birstein's retrospective show and sale made me aware of Christine's sensitivity and 
depth of character. I wanted to learn more about the development of her work and the thoughts driving her explorations."

Christine Aaron in her studio

I report on a show that took place at the Met Breuer this past summer, Like Life: Color, Sculpture, and the Body, focusing on the exhibition's work in wax. I went as a viewer, but surprised at the extensive presence of wax in the show,  pulled out my iPhone and began to shoot. In some ways, this is the museum version of the brilliant article, Ephemeral Figures in Wax, which Susanne K. Arnold produced for PWJ in Issue 19.

Kiki Smith sculpture 
  at the Met Breuer's Like Life:
 Color, Sculpture, and the Body

In a round-up feature, we look at the many shows that took place around the 12th International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown and Truro. The exhibitions ranged from a curated museum show to gallery invitationals to a juried exhibitionthe largest including 46 artists; the smallest, two. These various kinds of shows extended exhibition opportunities to some 80 artists from the Conference community, many included in more than one show. 

From the East End of Commercial Street to the West End: Organic to Geometric at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum; The Blues at the Adam Peck Gallerywith a lot in between 

As always the regular features offer short takes on artists and solid professional advice. With Paula Fava editing, we’ve got three Studio Visits this issue that couldn’t be more different from one another. Jeff Schaller’s cozy building is nestled in the Pennsylvania woods, a short walk from his home.  Dietland Vander Schaaf's loft studio in downtown Portland, Maine, overlooks 19th century brick architecture. Jodi Reeb's urban studio is part of an artists' co-op building in Minneapolis.

A peek inside Jeff Schaller's studio in Downington, Pennsylvania

We have two articles that consider our professional practice. With Essential Questions, Jane Guthridge asks Who’s Curating and Why? The answers range from "creating opportunities for other artists"  to "engaging a conversation" to "taking control." Certainly curating allows us to expand out vision and our practice. In Somebody’s Deciding Your Future, I pull back the curtain a bit to understand why we get rejected and how to turn that around. There’s more, including two In Five Words features, Pat Spainhour's In Residence experience, and a plethora of Exhibition and Workshop Listings. If you choose not to scroll from article to article, the Table of Contents lets you prioritize how you spend your reading time. 

Finally, we remember Binnie Birstein. So outgoing and energetic, Binnie got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last year at about this time. By May she was gone. Friends rallied round her. Lynette Haggard started a Scholarship fund in Binnie’s name at her beloved Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut; Cherie Mittenthal started one at Castle Hill for a Conference scholarship.  Numerous friends, spearheaded by Jen Greeley, Binnie’s mentee, catalogued her life’s work, put it on display at Firing Circuits, Binnie's gallery building, and offered it for sale to benefit her children. 

Binnie with David A. Clark, who shared some recollections

A goodbye and some acknowledgments

ProWax Journal started with Maritza Ruiz Kim’s question, “What if we had a publication that spoke to the issues of professional artists working with wax and encaustic?” That query resulted in the first issue of  PWJ in September 2013, with Maritza as editor in chief and a number of artists from our ProWax group as editors and writers. Finally, a publication that dealt with issues in our community! Issue 13 was Maritza’s last issue, after which she stepped down to consulting editor and I took the job. I have loved expanding this online magazine with more articles and broader ideas. But I have come to the end of my tenure. It’s a ton of work to produce a magazine like this, an unpaid job that has had to be shoehorned into my “spare time.”

With no takers for the editorial job—Hours of work for no pay? Yeah, watch the line form here
ProWax Journal has ceased publication on any kind of regular basis. We’ve talked about an annual volume. We’ll see. It has been an honor to produce ProWax Journal for the encaustic community. Many others deserve heaps of credit for their contributions: Nancy Natale, who has served as Executive Editor and produced her Q&A features as well as Back of the Panel; Debra Claffey who has served as Senior Editor and produced two In Five Words features each issue; and our small-but-mighty clutch of editor/writers who have produced their regular features, columns, and listings: Corina Alvarezdelugo, Dawna Bemis, Hylla Evans, Paula Fava, Milisa Galazzi, Jane Guthridge, Cheryl D. McClure, and Deborah Winiarski. 

There have been many contributors over the past few years as well: Susanne K. Arnold, Heidi Beal, Pamela Blum, Elena De La Ville, Shelley Gilchrist, Susan Lasch Krevitt, Winston Lee Mascarenhas, RaƩ Miller, Joan Stuart Ross, Leslie Sobel, Krista Svalbonas, Anna Wagner-Ott, and Pamela W. Wallace. And, of course, Maritza, without whose hard work ProWax Journal would have remained just a good idea. (Read a bit about everyone here.)

We’ll still be here in cyberspace

While there won’t be any forthcoming issues of PWJ, at least for the time being, all the issues issues, including this one, will remain right here online. A list with links to every issue is here. As a group, ProWax—which consists now of 168 members from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe—has in every way worked to raise the bar in our encaustic community: advocating for professional presentation; for non-restrictive language (we are artists, not "encaustic artists”); for responsible teaching, and equally, for responsible learning; and for maintaining archival standards while remaining inquisitive and creative. All of those ideas are in our 21 issues. I hope you’ll refer to them often and share them with your colleagues and students.


With Christine Shannon Aaron

By Nancy Natale

Christine pulling a print at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Norwalk, Connecticut

When I first saw Christine Shannon Aaron's work several years ago at the Encaustic Conference, she was making lithographs and encaustic monotypes on paper and on patinated sheets of copper. They were executed with a high level of accomplishment, and the delicate images of trees and landscapes, sometimes with handwritten text, were poetic and evocative. The use of copper appealed to me for its color and the reflective sheen that underlay the printed images. Later Christine began working with materials such as found slabs and chunks of wood with mirror shards. Her exploration of various processes also intrigued me as I saw the effects of her drilling and burning wood and paper, plus sewing, dyeing, rusting, and exploring all sorts of creative methods to make her work.

Forest Muse, 2012, lithograph with encaustic on patinated copper, 24 x 24 inches

A WildBeauty, 2017, lithograph on patinated copper, 24 x 24 inches

Nancy Natale: You have used images of trees and pieces of wood in much of your work. Do they have a particular meaning for you?

Christine Shannon Aaron: I’ve always responded to trees and particularly enjoy them in autumn when they are resplendent and in winter when they are calligraphic. They mark each year of their life in their rings, physical marks of their lived experience that remain hidden from view. After severe storms, where huge branches and whole trees fell, I would notice innards that had been rotted out or eaten away or damaged past the point where the limb or tree could survive. The day before, these limbs and trees looked healthy and complete. At other times I would notice thriving trees that had healed, grown over or through obstacles, and shown resiliency. The bare winter trees also call up life cycles, the periods of dormancy, of waiting, of transformation and annual renewal. To me it is analogous to human experience.

Buried, 2013, monotype, 18 x 18 inches, printed on 30 x 22 inch paper

Beyond all that I find them beautiful in and of themselves. The beautiful in art is in some circles and for some people a dirty word. It is not trusted. I do want to create beautiful art--but perhaps a beauty more complicated by being simultaneously bittersweet, unsettling, mysterious or evocative.

NN: The transition from printmaking to sculpture seems like a big move. Was this a gradual
transition for you or a leap?

CSA: A little of both I think. I started printing on more unusual substrates, such as mirror, copper, and steel and then aging those substrates as part of the evolution of the finished piece. I found I was becoming more physical with my materials and more interested in exploring what materials themselves could bring to the table. As I investigated and manipulated actual wood, I found the form shifted. In one particular critique group with Patricia Miranda, she pointed out that I was still handling the wood “on the surface” as if it were a painting. That was an aha moment to begin thinking about how the work intervened in and conversed with the surrounding space. Increasingly I am considering space and environment in my work to create a more immersive experience for the viewer.

Above: What Remains II, 2017, drilled and burned plywood 84 x 4 x 7.5 inches; Granary, 2016, drilled and burned tree slice with gampi and ink, 80 x 15 x 2 inches

Below: Detail of Granary

NN: Was there one material or process that provoked the transition?

CSA: I think it was a combination of the two. I went from using trees symbolically, to using actual wood, to a shift in other materials referencing the concepts I was exploring, such as time passage, loss, memory, and the marks of human experience and connection. The processes I was using—
from aging the materials to drilling, burning, and carving—started to carry some of the content of my work and also created new areas to explore. The drilling and burning and stitching evoked other things (trauma, wounds, healing, repair) and created cast shadows that spoke to absence and presence, memory and loss. Each exploration opened up other avenues to investigate.

Fragment Series, 2017, drilled and burned plywood; from left: 60 x 22 inches, 22 x 22 inches, 
82 x 22 inches

NN: How did Patricia Miranda's critique groups encourage the development of your work?

CSA: For me the critique group was essential in providing a professional and critical dialogue around the work. Not having an undergraduate or graduate degree in art, I often feel as if I am playing catch up.  Critique group offers a historical framework for what is being created now, a language and process for looking at and speaking about art, and truly important feedback as to what is and what is not working within the work I present. It is important for me to understand what others are experiencing and seeing when they look at my art. Often others see themes or evocations that I am working through but am not fully aware of myself. This causes me to dig more deeply into what motivates me, the reasons I’m choosing certain materials and what it is I wish to be expressing. At times I have been conveying the opposite of what I had hoped for. It is the opportunity to take in others' experience of my work, see what resonates, and what is sparked as to possible ways forward. 

What We Keep IV, 2017, burnt drawing on hand-dyed indigo paper, 10 x 8 inches

Confluence II, 2018, burnt drawing on hand-dyed indigo paper with hand stitching, 14 x 12 inches

One example is when looking at some of my monotypes, descriptors used were mysterious, hidden; one member said she could almost hear a whispering, sense of murmurings just beyond comprehension. In my mind’s eye I suddenly started picturing an audio that could accompany the work, of peoples' voices, like when you’re at the beach and just as you are tuning into a snippet of conversation, the wind shifts and you can no longer hear the rest of it. I created a multilayered audio, with voice-recorded memories where the recitations’ sound levels were raised and lowered so the listener could never hear the full memory, interspersed with sounds of wind and rain through trees. The full memories were all recorded and part of it, but not at a level where they could be accessed, much the way human memory is experienced.

NN: The processes of burning and drilling that you use often create negative spaces, or the absence of materials. Do the negative and positive spaces bear equal weight for you?

CSA: Yes! Absence and presence, the ever-present mark of experience that remains invisible but indelible. The cast shadows become part of the work. What remains, what is kept, how the whole is marked, repaired, remains intact despite the losses. Much of what I create is an attempt to make visible or tangible what is hidden and intangible.

I am also drawn to materials and processes that have an immediacy and unpredictability. I am a chronic over-thinker. Working with materials and processes that are inexact, that are variable in their results, forces me to react to what is actually happening in front of me and act as an antidote. Frequently the “mistakes” (burning that gets out of control, drilling that fractures the wood), speak better to my concepts than my preconceived ideas. Dyeing, printing, drilling, and burning are all inexact and often I “lose” much of what I began with, which naturally starts the process of reclamation and repair. In effect the things lost become as much a part of the piece as what’s retained; history haunts and inflects the work that remains.

Overwritten X Days of the Presidency, 2017-present, daily burnt pages of Grey's Anatomy textbook, 10 x 6 x 6 inches

NN: In your statement you say that your work "investigates memory, time, and the fragility of human existence." Do you think that the amount of time you invest in process assists in replicating the natural evolution of aging and decay?

CSA: What an interesting observation. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think yes. I think it also represents (especially as a woman) that repetitive experience of doing, redoing, making, remaking, and propping up, repairing, connecting, the forging of strengths and networks despite losses, fragility and inevitable decline. A determined resilience and piecing together of a meaningful life, through relationships and connections despite disappointments and loss. Loss shapes us more significantly than joy. I want to speak to the stubborn persistence of healing, repair and moving forward, forging ahead and finding beauty in the imperfect, the fragile, and the nature of being human.

More and more I work to have the materials I use carry some of the content in order that the work embodies rather than illustrates. The burned, rusted and stitched cloth and paper, the drilled and burned tree slices are whole and beautiful despite of or because of their fragility and fractured or pieced together nature. Wax, which has its own rich history of use for preservation, medicinal needs, and ancient art, has the capability to layer, be opaque or translucent, to obscure and reveal. It retains its own history of mark making within.  Additionally, I think the hand-wrought and manipulated nature of these materials validates the imperfect, the intimate, the individual mark, in contrast to the pervasive and impersonal electronic media and mass-produced items dominating daily life. That my work is open to various interpretations beyond my intent thrills me. 

Vestige V, 2015, wood, ink, mirror shards, encaustic, 15 inches in diameter

My first sculptural pieces were three-inch deep, 15-inch-wide wood slices with a rotted away center that I filled with shattered mirror. I was representing the fractured nature of memory and how each thing we learn or each angle which we look at or remember, causes the memory to shift and change. Several people at the exhibit eagerly spoke with me about the work and their perceptions of it. One insisted that it spoke to man’s destruction of the environment. Another saw it representative of cancer, the “alien” organism taking over the healthy, but that the cancer threat was “contained.” Another just enjoyed the contrasting surfaces of the organic wood and the shimmering of the multifaceted mirror shards. It is exactly what I hope for, that each viewer relates to the work and finds meaning that resonates from his/her own experience.

NN: Does your background in social work add depth to your work as an artist?

CSA: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I hope so, yes.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that having experienced my mother’s chronic illness (she was ill from when I was 14 until her death when I was 23), I became a social worker and my younger sister became a nurse (as compared to my older brother and sister who were already out of the house and became a businessman and event planner respectively). Having lost her at such a young age, and experienced significant losses since then, it always intrigued me how others had very different experiences and thoughts or beliefs about the very things I remembered so differently. Therefore, loss, the prismatic slippery concept of memory, what marks us and how that becomes part of who we are, have all figured into my artwork. 

The Memory Project, funded by a grant from Arts Westchester, installed at Mamaroneck Artists Guild, Larchmont, New York, 2017; lithographs on gampi with ink, wax, thread; dimensions variable

Below: Detail of scrolls in The Memory Project

I think the training I received as a therapist, the focus on others, body language, evaluation of mood and behavior, the sorting through the layers of an experience presented, helped me hone my skills at being present, paying attention to details visually, spoken and unspoken. In addition, being part of the critique group fosters skills in really looking at work, evaluating what one is seeing, formally, conceptually, and even emotionally. I’m conscious about what I feel when I’m in front of art, what I’m looking at and what it evokes for me. I try to ask the same questions as I create my own work in terms of digging more deeply to get at what it is I want to express and put into the world.

NN: Recently you have begun writing on social media about exhibitions that you have seen and describing the work of other artists in depth. In addition to publicizing shows and artists, is this practice a personal mission to improve your awareness and critical language?

CSA: Before I decided to pursue social work, I wanted to be a writer. I did some writing in college and actually graduated with a B.S. in Education before going on to get a Master’s in Social Work. I am an avid reader and can get totally lost in the worlds created by other peoples’ words. Much the same way I can get lost in a piece of art—transported to a different place. Critique group has helped me develop a language with which to speak about art.

I think I have always had a love/hate relationship with social media. It is essential these days and yet I find it uncomfortable and self involved to be always putting myself or my work forward. So periodically I share others’ work. I tend to be drawn to material-based, intimate, or emotionally evocative work. And I usually include brief descriptions as to how I experience the work, letting followers see the work through my eyes and decide how they see and experience the work themselves. 

No Safety Ne(s)t, 2018, shattered safety glass with found bird's nest, 10 x 6 x 6 inches

One thing I have enjoyed about Instagram is finding artists and work that I wish to follow. I have struck up “conversations” with some, messaged others to ask questions, and sought out work in person that happened to be in my geographic area. In that way, it has really expanded my art world. So although I think it does improve my awareness and critical language, my aim is really to share others’ art that I find inspirational, intriguing, and unique. On occasion I have thought about doing a blog showcasing art that is intimate and more material and installation based. There are many blogs I enjoy and respect that focus on geometric abstraction, color, contemporary painting and so forth, but I considered showcasing the kind of work that I thought related more to my own. I enjoyed doing the fantasy curation for Vasari 21, but the idea of doing a regular blog is intimidating, and so posting art on Instagram with brief descriptions scratches that itch for now.

Christine in her studio 

In Five Words: Ellen Koment

Curated by Debra Claffey

In Five Words is a regular feature of ProWax Journal in which we go literal, lyrical, and poetic. Visual art does not exist in a vacuum; it sings along with poetry and prose, music and rhythm. Each issue we ask our feature artists to comment on one of their works with five single words, chosen to add meaning and highlight intent.

Rolling, 2017, wax, pigment, paper, triptych, 36 x 28 inches each


Ellen Koment has been exhibiting her encaustic paintings nationally for 20 years, including at the Karan Ruhlen Gallery in Santa Fe. She is a graduate of Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, and has a Masters degree in painting from the University of California, Berkeley. She has been teaching encaustic for 18 years.

The Body in Wax: Visual Excerpts from "Like Life" at the Met

Related in ProWax Journal
. Ephemeral Figures in Wax 

Duane Hanson (American, 1925–96),  Housepainter II, 1984; bronze, polychromed in oil, mixed media, with accessories. This is the work you saw when you stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, with classical and neo-classical marble scuptures in the first gallery. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

While the hordes were flocking to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute extravaganza, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, more discerning (and thus fewer) viewers made their way over to the Met Breuer. The Madison Avenue venue, former home to the Whitney, housed an equally celestial exhibition: Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body. 

Featuring 700 years of figurative sculpture, the exhibition, which closed earlier this year, was installed to cross time and cultures. Poignantly, for instance, the 19th-century wax bust of a young woman was made for a grieving widower so that she might remain with him for life, while the frozen head of a contemporary figure cast in blood requires refrigeration to maintain its form. There were 120 objects in the exhibition. I photographed those in wax, which I share with you here. 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Herbert Adams, Adele Gould, ca. 1894
Full info farther along the scroll

This article follows on the heels of Susanne Arnold’s splendid article in Issue 19 of PWJ, Ephemeral Figures in Wax. Whereas she researched her subject in depth, I had but to photograph objects and their informational wall texts. But taken together, we see wax through nearly a millennium of figuration in the West.                                                                                                                                                                                                      —J.M.

These are the marble sculptures we saw in the distance of the previous image. We will focus on the seated figure shown here in the far distance, but first a note: The wax figures you see in this show depict caucasians, but the exhibition included (a bit) more ethnic variety in other mediums.
All photos Joanne Mattera unless indicated otherwise

Thomas Southwood Smith and Jacques Talrich, Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham, 1830; wax, human bones, hair, wool, cotton, linen, accessories

The uniqueness of this figure lies beneath the wax exterior: the skeleton of the sitter. The museum text described it as a "secular reliquary and modern mummy." The museum description did not make clear if the hair and clothing belonged to Bentham.

Closer view of the head below

John Gibson, The Tinted Venus, 1851-56, carved marble and colored wax

Museum text: "Most critics were aghast when the Neoclassical sculptor John Gibson unveiled this figure of Venus at the 1862 International Exhibition in London . . . The use of flesh tones was deemed vulgar--too bodily and sensuous--by a 19th century audience accustomed to aloof, colorless marbles that adorned Rome. Some, however, defended Gibson's sincere attempt to revive the ancient practice and imbue the stark white marble with a sense of warmth and living color."

Detail below

Artist unknown, Funeral Effigy of Doge Alvise III Mocigeno, 1732, polychromed wax and fabric

Museum text: "Portraiture can be an act of substitution. For the doges of Venice . . . artificial corpses were made using wax death masks. The sensual quality of the skin and remarkable detail, such as the lines and stubble around the mouth, of this funeral effigy ensure a lifelike--or, more properly, death-like--presence. The face is articulated only to the extent that it would have been seen beneath the doge's very grand vestments."

Closer view, with stubble, below

Malvina Cornell Hoffman, Mask of Anna Pavlova, 1924, tinted wax

Vitrine, above, gives you a sense of the installation of the life-size head

Closer view, right

Museum text: "In choosing this incarnation for her subject rather than one that portrays more of the lyrical dancer's body, Hoffman reveals her worshipful attitude toward Pavlova.

We now descend to the third floor, where we are greeted by two ballerinas, one iconic, the other contemporary. 

Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, ca 1880; partially tinted bronze, wax, cotton tarlatan, silk satin, wood; and Yinka Shonibare, Girl Ballerina, 2007; mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile, antique flintlock pistol

This was an inspired pairing, not only for the pose but--from our point of view--the wax connection. Degas's sculpture is famously modeled in part of sculpture wax (which the artist's audience found uncomfortably similar to the waxwork specimens in the natural history museum), while Shonibare's headless figure is dressed in Indonesian-inspired wax-printed fabrics that became popular during West Africa's colonial period and remain popular today. Notes the museum text: "This deliberate sartorial choice creates visual and conceptual dissonance and also alludes to the arbitrariness of textiles as a marker of African authenticity." 

Degas detail above

Closer view, below, of Shonibare's Ballerina, with the surprise of a dueling pistol in her hands. Notes the museum text: "Headless and faceless she is a powerful personification of a subject that lacks sovereignty." 

August Saint-Gaudens, Louise Adele Gould
Bust on left: Marble, 1894-1895, modeled by Saint-Gaudens; on right: wax, modeled by Saint-Gaudens and painted by Herbert Adams; life size

Not quite Pygmalion: Gould's grieving husband, Charles, commissioned Saint-Gaudens to create several likenesses of his late wife. He particularly wanted one in wax, according to the museum text, "to better bring her back to life."  Displayed side by side, the figures allow us to see how cogently wax evokes the warmth of flesh (despite their placement within a reflective vitrine)

Below: Closer view from another angle

Angelo Pio, Portrait of a Monk, 18th century; wax, hair, cloth, glass, gilded plaster frame

Museum text: "Soft, organic, and translucent, like skin, wax has long been used to evoke the flesh of a human being. When the Bolognese artist Pio produced this hyperrealistic portrait of an aging monk in wax, he not only rendered every wrinkle and vein in extraordinary detail but also enhanced the figure's realism with actual hair, glass eyes, and thick brown fabric (possibly a genuine monastic robe). The incorporation of these materials brings the monk more concretely into our realm. The figure's enclosure within a deep shadow box, however, isolates him in a sphere separate from ours. The gilded frame, almost certainly designed by Pio himself, further distances and elevates the waxwork, announcing its status as high art."

Below: closer view from a slightly different angle

Installation view of a gallery with mixed-media sculpture by Yayoi Kusama, center. Along the far wall, a vitrine containing two busts, shown below

Foreground figure: Pierre Imans, Bust, ca 1910; painted wax, residual hair, silk ribbon, cotton net, and resin

Museum text: "In 1896 Imans began producing unconventional, naturalistic mannequins in wax. Unlike the generic, faceless fashion dolls that decorated shop windows across Europe, Iman's proxies donned face paint, resin eyes, eyelashes, and wigs of human hair . . . Their realism and elegant modeling render them veritable sculpture, modern portrait busts that hover fascinatingly between high art and popular, commercial appeal."

Below: closer view from a different angle

Kiki Smith, Untitled, a.k.a. The Sitter, 1992; wax, cheesecloth, wood, and dye

Smith's figures are never idealized or eroticized, making them poignant or painful, sometimes both. This figure is placed abjectly on the floor, evoking her discomfort and ours. Viewing it from behind we see deep gouges. We are accustomed to seeing religious iconography with this kind of physical rending, but on a contemporary figure they suggest political torture or domestic abuse.

Alternate views below

Jean-Leon Gerome, Seated Woman, 1898-1902; marble, pigment, wax

Museum text: "Here the artist examines how realistically rendered sculpture both conceals and reveals its production: the nude's casual, anti-classical pose, softly folding flesh, and wax-tinted skin enhance her lifelike presence, while her diminutive scale detracts from it in equal measure."

Below: installation view for scale 
(Louise Bourgeois stuffed fabric sculptures in the left background; Robert Gober wax torso in the right background)

Robert Gober, Untitled, 1990; beeswax, human hair, pigment

Museum text: "The human torso is defined through a pair of male and female breasts grafted onto an organic mass that took its form from a bag of plaster found in the artist's studio. Incorporating the fleshiness of wax, real hair, and pigmented nipples, this sack attains uncanny resemblance to human flesh. It pays ironic homage to the notion of a pound of flesh, while at the height of the AIDS epidemic, it more darkly alluded to the object-like condition of the body and the frailty of its parts."

Below: Installation view with Gober's torso and an Italian ex voto

Italian, Ex-Voto Breasts, late 19th-early 20th century, pigmented wax

Ex votos, popular in Latin countries, from Spain and Southern Italy to Mexico and throughout South America, where they are known as milagros, are still made today. Offerings of gratitude or supplication for divine intercession, these small sculptures are made not only in wax but in chased or cast metals like tin, copper, or silver. These wax breasts, the museum text tells us, are from a church in Bari.

(Related: Graces Received, my blog report on an exhibition of Italian ex votos)

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Pieta, 2008; wax, epoxy, metal, wood

Normally a Pieta refers to the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her son, but the two male figures here suggest the tremendous loss of life to the AIDS epidemic, when men lost their partners and sometimes their own lives as well. Notes the museum text: "Modeled in pale tinted wax, the grisly process of decay and decomposition appear to unfold before one's eyes. Headless and seemingly mutilated, both bodies are reduced to biological matter--a depiction that verges on abstraction."

Detail below

De Bruyckere's Pieta (along with several conventional crucifiction sculptures and a powerful upended figure by Alison Saar, shown left) lead us into the last gallery, a salon the museum describes as Between Art and Life.

Left, not wax: Alison Saar, Strange Fruit, 1995; tin, wood, dirt, found objects

Museum text on Between Art and Life: "Artistic strategies of life casting, modeling, clothing, polychromy . . . are again deployed in these horizontal sculptures to approximate real bodies. The apparent passivity of these figures blurs the distinction between sleep and death, and also between bodily object and human subject. . .  As the pedestal transforms into the autopsy table, the coffin, or the bed (for birth, sleep, or death), the figures traverse the spaces between art and life."

Below: panoramic view of the gallery. We look more closely at three of the works here

Fontana Workshop, Anatomical Venus, 1780-85; wood skeleton, transparent and pigmented wax, hair, silk cushion. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Museum text: "An interest in human anatomy during the 18th century led to the production of female wax cadavers, known as 'anatomical Venuses." These hyperreal sculptures--with glistening skin, languid poses, and flowing hair--were designed for disassembly and exploration of the feminine interior and sex organs. Critics dismissed anatomical sculptures as peepshow science, though one Florentine practitioner, Clemente Susini, earned a sterling reputation for his superior wax modeling. This figure was produced in the workshop where Susini practiced, and it bears resemblance to his works that sit halfway between life and death, artwork and artifact, and science and erotica."

Closer views, left and below

Maurizio Cattelan, Now, 2004; polyester, resin, wax, pigment, human hair, clothing, coffin

Though the Italian-born Cattelan is a provocateur, the museum text here is overstated: "Paradoxically but self-knowingly, by enshrining JFK's death in art, and in Now's presentation in exhibitions across the world, Cattelan creates new cycles of visibility and debate, underscoring the perennial uncertainties that lie within the narratives of the death of an icon."  Pshaw. The figure is startling.

Closer view below

Sleeping Beauty, 1989, after 1765 Philippe Curtius original; gold leaf, wood, velvet upholstery, beeswax, human hair, fiberglass, steel, silk, lace

The irony of this sumptuous final work, from the Madame Tussaud collection in London, is laid out against the two powerful figures in the background: post-crucifixion Christ and the lynched body. Sleeping Beauty versus the brutality of death.

Closer view below

More about the exhibition
. Catalog
. Selected exhibition objects
. Images and texts by gallery
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