Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Finally, a review – Holt and Seigenthaler

This may the first in a series of reviews of shows that have closed by now. I think a saying that would cover this approach is “with miniscule readership comes miniscule responsibility.”

On Friday I went by Belmont’s gallery to see the show by Emily Holt and Delia Seigenthaler. It was announced as closing Thursday, but I didn’t believe it. Sometimes I am caught by surprise, by ambitious gallery staff, but no such problems Friday.

Very briefly, because I just want to talk about a couple of pieces: Emily does paintings and constructions of birds, bugs, monsters, dog gods, graveyards that have a creepy but funny air. You could compare it to Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, but that’s not right. A rough, hand-made quality is important in Emily’s stuff.

Seigenthaler makes ceramic dolls of babies and children often doing odd things, and paintings with these characters and others. She plays with and emphasizes dolls’ inherently creepy quality, wide-open fixed staring eyes. And she gives a lot of them anatomically correct genitalia, which you would think would get a reaction from the Christian Taliban, but apparently standards of pious rectitude have declined rapidly now that Belmont has cut its ties with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

So the first piece on my mind is Diminishing Triage, a set of sculptures by Emily. (BTW, I know Emily, but not Delia Seigenthaler. My practice in the blog is to refer to people I know reasonably well however I refer to them in real life, and anyone else by their last name.) A dragon, cobbled together from plastic, cans or cardboard packaging, maybe a deer’s skull with a garden trowel in place of its lower jaw, swoops over the scene at eye level. On the floor a single file line of bugs variously wrapped in gauze and riding all sorts of wheeled conveyances march along a curved path that starts at a sort of tunnel entrance on the wall and ends in another one a few feet to the right. The first tunnel entrance, on the left, is big, the second one much smaller, and the bugs get progressively smaller as they move away from the big entrance to the little one.

It’s like a perspective effect, defined by the figures getting smaller in the distance. Except they don’t get smaller along a straight line away from the viewer, but do so along a curved on that puts foreground (bigger) and background (smaller) the same distance away. It’s the curved universe, post-Newton.

The piece also is a good introduction to a bunch of things in Emily’s work. The presence of threat, the interest in flying things (bugs, birds, bats), and a pervasive sense of fragility. Sometimes dirt and the ground figure in her pieces (and there’s dirt pile dup along the edge of the curved track in Diminishing Triage), but air seems to be the dominant element for Emily. All the bugs and graves bring out chthontic qualities, but this is the somehow the chthontic dimension of the air, not of the Earth. The overunderworld.

And maybe there’s political overtones—attacks from the air, resulting in various casualties. Maybe it’s there, maybe not.

Obviously Seigenthaler shares Holt’s childish creepiness. The piece I want to talk about is Landscape with Baby. A child lies on a background of patterned fabrics stuffed like upholstery. In the background are a few buildings. The pieces looks remarkably like an early Renaissance painting—the buildings seem Mediterranean, with tile roofs and bleached colors, and they are arrayed with the jumbled perspective that paintings had before artists started organizing them around a single receding point. The sirface details on the child including sections that have flaked away, like a fresco in an Italian church.

But the fabric underneath the baby, which as I recall was the largest element, has outright Moorish patterns and outlines. The total effect is similar to art works created at the interface of Christian and Islamic cultures. Again, maybe a contemporary reference. Subtle enough that you can take it or leave it.

On the way back to the car I stopped in the art department gallery which had a show by a student, Matt Chenoweth, who has found his way into clay. It’s definitely a student show, where he tries out different techniques (including some Jason Briggs-y objects with stuff attached), but he seems to have a really good feel for glaze and color combinations. He’s got a ways to go before his nice but conventional vessels challenge the boundary between art and craft, as he declares is his intention. But he has good fundamental skills to work in this medium, whatever he decides to do with it.


  • Thanks for stopping by Matt's B.F.A. show. Should he go on to bigger and better things, you will own the distinction of being the first to publish a review of his work.

    By Anonymous Paul Chenoweth, at 2:58 AM  

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