Rosemary Laing, a dozen useless actions for grieving blondes #5, 2009
  • C-Type photograph, 30.50 x 52.562 in (77.50 x 133.50 cm) Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York © Rosemary Laing
  • Rosemary Laing, a dozen useless actions for grieving blondes #5, 2009

Perhaps one of the art events I'm most excited about in October is Anguish, an exhibition of works from nine different artists on the theme of, well, anguish.

It certainly isn't an easy topic to explore, but one of the rawest of human emotions is the inspiration for curator Cynthia Thompson's upcoming exhibition at the new Memphis College of Art Graduate School on South Main.

“The idea for this exhibition has been kicking around in my head for over a year,” says Thompson. “I like to come up with a concept and find artists whose work reflects that in different ways. It’s challenging. And I do it also because I like to challenge the viewers. I think it’s important to bring work to Memphis that people can not only view, but experience.”

Many of the artists are from New York, but others come from as far away as Norway and Colombia. Media include printmaking, etching, photography, sculpture, video, installation and relief print. “Viewers can make connections between the work,” says Thompson. “And some of it might be unsettling, but I like the fact that it makes people think.”

Thompson is acutely aware of how each piece fits together, and the unique and yet similar ways in which they touch on the concept of anguish.

"Some of them are very hard to look at," she says. "Rosemary Laing’s image is a very raw, striking image: Someone breaking down desperately grasping to hold on to something, the hand, which could be many things. It could be a metaphor for a relationship, it could be a loved one that has passed. It’s not just a hand."

Jenny Holzer,  Lustmord (detail), 1993
  • Ink on skin, Cibachrome print, 13 x 20 in (33 x 50.8 cm) Text: Lustmord, 1993”“95 © 1993 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
  • Jenny Holzer, Lustmord (detail), 1993

"Jenny Holzer’s piece, the text, is very difficult also. She has photographs of skin with writing in ink on them and the writing is taken from three points of view. It’s from the series she did dealing with war and rape and the text is coming from three different perspectives: an observer, the person being raped, and the rapist. It’s just a really powerful series — this idea that this horrible experience is burned into you, written on your body."

Oscar Munoz,  La Linea del Destino,  2006
  • Video; Two minutes in length, Courtesy the artist and Sicardi Gallery
  • Oscar Munoz, La Linea del Destino, 2006

"Oscar Munoz’s work is phenomenal. It addresses so many themes of vulnerability and loss. His images hover on the verge of extinction. He uses materials like, in the video piece, a reflection in water. They’re very subtle but very powerful. The video has an image of his own hand, attempting to hold on to this small pool of water and his reflection is in the pool of water. He’s watching it as it slowly dissipates and leaves his hands. There’s this whole interesting quality of water as a metaphor for time and vulnerability, and losing your image, the frailty of your image, and your life. But yet, also surrendering to the loss."

Kiki Smith,  Pool of Tears 1,  2000
  • Intaglio, 22 x 24.75 in (55.9 x 62.9 cm) Edition of 30, Published by Universal Limited Art Editions. © Kiki Smith/ Universal Limited Art Editions, 2000
  • Kiki Smith, Pool of Tears 1, 2000

Kiki Smith, Come Away From Her After Lewis Carroll, 2003
  • Intaglio with hand water coloring, 51 x 78.75 in (129.5 x 200 cm) Edition of 28, Published by Universal Limited Art Editions. © Kiki Smith/ Universal Limited Art Editions, 2003
  • Kiki Smith, Come Away From Her After Lewis Carroll, 2003

"Kiki Smith’s prints allude to herself as this Alice, fairy-tale figure. The drawings are based off of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In one of the images, she’s swimming in this very murky dark water, surrounded by sorrow and turmoil. The other print, she’s sitting on the edge of this pond and all the animal shadow forms are fleeing from her. So it’s a lot about isolation. The piece was taken from the part of the story where Alice talks about her cat and how it finds and eats its prey and all the animals are scared off by that."

Anna Tsantir,  Disasters and War,  2009
  • Triptych, 1/3 Relief Print (Photopolymer and monoprint on Somerset) 42 x 30 in (106.7 x 76.2 cm) Printed by the artist at Highpoint Center for Printmaking
  • Anna Tsantir, Disasters and War, 2009

"Anna Tsantir was a former graduate student from MCA. Her images relate perfectly to Kiki’s with these beautiful large forms, imagery taken from different hunting magazines, images of dead animals, all balled up and the shadow forms with gorgeous delicate edges. From a distance they almost look like a beautiful zinnia or flower. So you’re enticed by them, but you get closer and you realize that’s not really what you’re looking at. They’re not grotesque. They register the same way the shadow forms in Kiki Smith’s work do— as the fear and darkness. There is beauty and clarity and other things going on within the darkness. That to me is the insight we get from these experiences. To move on, to realize that we can bring ourselves out of situations and there are good things."

Tara Donovan,  Untitled, 2009
  • Relief print from pin matrix, Paper Size: 31.75 x 31.625 in (80.6 x 80.3 cm) Image Size: 28.75 x 29.25 in (73 x 74.3 cm) Edition of 30, Printed by Pace Editions Ink Published by Pace Editions, Inc.
  • Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2009

"Tara Donovan’s images are these repetitive, almost prick forms from a pin, and to me they really related to Polly Apfelbaum’s piece in terms of the incredible sense of devotion because of the obsessiveness of the imagery, of this action of doing something over and over again. To me it reminds me of when you’re either trying to make yourself feel something or make yourself feel numb so you don’t feel anything. Taking your mind away from the pain or sorrow you’re currently feeling. Polly’s piece is this very large installation made up of intricate little pieces of hand-dyed velvet and to me it’s the action of presenting these pieces, the multiples the layering the scale of the piece. It’s going to encompass the entire center space of the gallery."

Polly Apfelbaum,  Funkytown,  2005-9
  • Synthetic velvet, dye 324.8 x 177.17 in (825 x 450 cm) (PA-240-SC)
  • Polly Apfelbaum, Funkytown, 2005-9

Anders Krisar, The Birth of Us (girl),  2006”“07
  • Gel coat, glass ï¬ber, oil paint, and hardware, 15.748 x 12.795 x 5.118 in (40 x 32.5 x 13 cm) A. P. 1/1, Edition of 3, Installation: Artist's studio, Stockholm, 2008, Collection of the artist
  • Anders Krisar, The Birth of Us (girl), 2006”“07

The show is a range of figurative and abstract representation. "Most of them are tied to the body because of the visceral quality and emotion exhibited is tied to the body," explains Thompson. "Obviously in Rosemary Laing’s photographs you have a figure and in Anders Krisar’s piece there is a torso. Louise Bourgeois has a female figure with an umbilical cord emanating from her body with a small figure attached to it and the title is do not abandon me. So again attachment and detachment. The fear of losing someone or being lost."
Louise Bourgeois,  Do Not Abandon Me,  2000
  • Drypoint on paper, 19.25 x 16 in (48.8 x 40.6 cm) Courtesy Harlan & Weaver, New York © Louise Bourgeois Trust, Photo: Christopher Burke
  • Louise Bourgeois, Do Not Abandon Me, 2000

While it may be a difficult show to view, it will be a significant inauguration for the new Graduate School. "I think it’s going to make you think," Thompson says. "You’re going to look at the pieces and remember times in your life when you experienced great sorrow or anguish. At the same time it makes you realize where you are and what you can appreciate. It’s kind of a reality check in a way. If people leave this exhibition still pondering over something, whether it be something that disturbed them or just remains with them, I like that. That’s important to get people to think."

The show runs from October 4 to November 7. Tomorrow, installation artist Polly Apfelbaum will give a lecture at 7 p.m. in Callicott Auditorium in Rust Hall. Also, the show will hold two receptions, one on Friday October 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. and one for South Main Trolley Night, October 29, 6 to 9 p.m.

Memphis College of Art Graduate School, 477 South Main, 272-5100,


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