When I heard the works of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons were being exhibited at Reynolds Gallery this fall, I was ebulliently happy. After all, these are big names in the art world and it is quite a masterful feat that Bev Reynolds was able to bring their art down to our little capitol city. The show, indeed, does not disappoint. Titled "WildLife," the exhibition is organized in conjunction with James Cohan Gallery in New York and features, along with Koons and Hirst, nine other internationally recognized artists (including Virginia Commonwealth University alum Tara Donovan). With 11 artists producing large, monumental sculpture displayed in a rather limited space, the show is a bit of an overachievement. I am grateful for the opportunity to see these artists in Richmond, but most of the works would present more meaningfully in a larger, open space. Nonetheless, Reynolds has done an admirable job of arranging the varied works so that they operate less autonomously and more as partners in an overall schema. With that in mind, the gallery further sought to detect an underlying theme within these multivalent works. That theme, as embraced by the title of the show, is the aesthetic glue that binds these works in a loose yet effective cohesion. The press statement notes that this show "examines issues of the urban and natural world." While this may seem a little broad, the art does encompass a wide range of issues from the ideas of perception and vision of our organic world to the interplay of the age-old dichotomy of nature vs. culture. What is immediately striking are the materials used and what they end up representing. Seven of the 11 artists directly employ industrial, synthetic materials that result in a natural, organic form. Donovan creates pools of dried Elmer's glue, resulting in an icy tundra or barren frozen terrain. Koons' characteristic balloon figurines also use plastic combined with human oxygen to create a vibrant flower. Hundreds of drinking straws are structured by Tom Friedman to make an organic form suggestive of a sea urchin or exotic plant. Alyson Shotz designs reeds from steel rods and rubber coated Q-tips. One of the best pieces is Tony Oursler's disturbingly odd human eyeball. Employing a large, hollow, fiberglass sphere placed on the floor, he disarmingly projects a moving image of an eyeball on the globe. The eye stares, blinks and shifts in an overt, raw manner. Perhaps the most disappointing work is Hirst's installation of a blow dryer, facing upwards, plugged in and keeping a ping-pong ball afloat through forced hot air. While it can be seen as an interesting study on anti-gravity (although one can observe this at the Science Museum), in comparison to Hirst's more deservedly better known vivisections of cattle and pigs, the sterility of the prosaic blow dryer is rather a letdown. The show overall is a powerful expression of where contemporary sculpture is today. Employing unconventional materials that both suggest nature but simultaneously deny it seems a fitting commentary on the postmodern world of cyberspace, industrialization and genetic engineering. These works are like animals in a zoo natural and yet unnatural; wild and yet confined. John Berger wrote in his book on the artificiality of a zoo: "Yet nowhere in a zoo can a stranger encounter the look of an animal. At the most, the animal's gaze flickers and passes on. They look sideways. They look blindly beyond." These sculptures, too, are artificially made, confined and unable to hold a gaze. They may allude to the natural world, but are ironically, the antithesis of "wild" and of
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