The exhibit's concept is simple, and one that is not unfamiliar to Anderson: Pair the work of younger, former VCU students with work from Anderson's permanent collection. Each of the four younger artists Jeannine Harkleroad, Chris Norris, SunTek Chung and James Davis is teaching for VCU and shares similar artistic sensibilities. Where the exhibition departs from the ordinary is in Hauft's active curatorial approach, often making her own hand as visible as that of the artists.
"Relativity," which occupies the entire second floor of the gallery, uses the room of Chris Norris' work as a springboard for the rest of the show. Twelve of his framed, uniformly sized and spaced acrylics grace the wall and are "paired" with a condensed selection of work by Dieter Roth, Phillip Guston, David Hockney and George Grosz. The casual presentation of the work from the permanent collection (spread out on a mahogany table beneath a panel of glass) is entirely appropriate considering that the work is made of either sparsely rendered black-and-white lithos or doodles. Norris' cadre of epic pop characters from pink bunnies, ferocious triheaded swans, and heroes who resemble a hybrid of Hercules and Snuffy Smith certainly owe much to the artists chosen from Anderson's collection. In keeping with the theme of the show, however, the work of the older artists clearly defers to the younger.
On the other side of the gallery, Jeannine Harkleroad's comic and convoluted installation, "Trying to Make a Sunset," comes fully equipped with man-sized houses on slanted wood tracks, a goal post, a stoplight, a rubber-chicken outfit and a photo-journal/instruction book on how to use it all. (The photos were taken during a demonstration on the opening night of "Relativity.") A self-conscious exercise in inefficiency, Harkleroad's installation is reminiscent of a full-sized version of those childhood mousetrap games, in which the object was to catch a plastic rodent in five steps or more. Resting in the corner of the room with the installation are two self-portraits by folk artist Mose Tolliver, flanking a terra cotta horse from the Tang Dynasty. In this instance, rather than actively relating to the younger artist's work, the work from the collection feels a bit tacked on.
A more effective connection is made with the other pairings. Richmonder James Davis' panels, which simultaneously convey chaos and order, are hung behind three eye-level square pedestals upon which the shimmering screen prints of Jules Olitski are mounted horizontally under Plexiglas. In a hot-glue-on-canvas work entitled "Everything," Davis arranges countless numbers of tiny multicolored beads in a perfect circle, resulting in what resembles static on a TV screen. The optical effect is enhanced further in that the Plexiglas on the Olitski prints serves as reflecting pools beneath Davis' work.
In what could be considered the flagship work of the show, sculptor/photographer SunTek Chung deals with the issue of "Relativity" most directly namely, the relative nature of stereotypes. In a mockingly staged photograph, the Asian Chung dresses himself in the garb of a hillbilly woodsman, Budweiser in hand, next to a parked motorcycle (a Honda, not a Harley). Paralleling Chung's work is the black-and-white photography of Thomas Daniel, whose two somber portraits of elderly daughters of Confederate soldiers depict what appear to be sweet old ladies clutching keepsake accoutrements of war. The works of the two artists are paired brilliantly, mainly because of this commonality: the subjects, in seeking to embody their own version of a Southern stereotype, end up shattering that stereotype altogether. S"Relativity" is on view through Aug. 6 at the Anderson Gallery, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St., Tuesday to Saturday, 1-5 p.m.
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