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Local color

The 2007 DeCordova Annual Exhibition
By GREG COOK  |  May 8, 2007
SPUDNIK: Jeff “Jeffu” Warmouth tells a tale of a Soviet-styled nation of potato people and their quest for the stars.

It’s an art-world misconception that, to champion local art, you have to grade on a curve. After viewing the ICA’s Foster Prize exhibit last winter, the Boston Globe’s Ken Johnson wrote, “I don’t think local favoritism helps anyone very much, excepting the lucky individuals who win the big prize.” Enter the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Garden’s annual round-up of its Top 10 “best, most interesting, and visually eloquent artists who work in this region,” which annually raises the question of whether local artists warrant a show on this scale — besides prompting the inevitable arguments about who’s in and who’s not.

Organized by DeCordova staff talent scouts Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, Nick Capasso, and Lisa Sutcliffe, the 2007 DeCordova Annual Exhibition has a standout in Jungil Hong of Providence. Affiliated with that city’s punky Fort Thunder art gang, she makes eye-popping psychedelic screenprint collages of Hieronymus Bosch–style apocalypses by way of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animations. People dressed in chain-mail armor gather eggs and vegetables and hang leaves to dry in landscapes dotted with windmills, malignant clouds, wolf-headed birds, black armies brandishing boomboxes, a leaf woman, a beehive, and giant gulls and crows. A wavy red pattern filling the ground makes the earth look to have been flooded with fire. Her work seems a mysterious allegory, a dream of scratching out an existence in the shadow of looming environmental collapse.

On the whole, however, the show feels too safe. It could benefit from examples of digital or conceptual art — maybe Paper Rad from Easthampton or Boston’s Institute for Infinitely Small Things. And what are Connecticut artist Robert Taplin’s lame figurines of Punch, as in the old Punch and Judy puppet shows, doing here?

No need to apologize for Fitchburg artist Jeff “Jeffu” Warmouth, whose 2007 video Spudnik mixes animation and puppetry to tell its fractured tale of a Soviet-styled nation of potato people and their quest for the stars. “The desire for space exploration among the Potatoites has a long and delicious history,” the narrator explains in that optimistic march-of-progress tone familiar from newsreels and science documentaries. Warmouth’s installation includes rocket models and photos “documenting” the Spudnik program — the “Unmanned Foil Satellite” is a ball of tinfoil with three metal legs that exploded on re-entry because “engineers had neglected to poke holes in the foil to prevent steam build-up.” Warmouth’s project is a light goof on museum displays, filled with groan-inducing puns and charming Sesame Street–style humor. Sometimes it’s too light and silly, but he keeps everything short enough that it doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Samantha Fields of Avon fills the museum’s giant second-story window with frilly layers of white curtains and valances in a mix of lacy, floral, and polka-dot fabrics. The arrangement evokes ladies’ petticoats, with all their womanly sexuality. Fields covers the wall opposite with white vinyl siding (think male) punctured with holes and strung with bright-colored yarn in swirling, speckled floral patterns (female). The designs are taken from old wallpaper, but in execution it feels like a giant 1970s girls’ Art Nouveau craft set. Cool.

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