Collection Overview

Curator's Statement

5 @ gallery co
-Edited version of gallery statement

By Mason Riddle

The exhibition “5” conveys an uneasy, even agitated view of the world around us. As implied by the title, the show features the work of five Twin Cities-based artists who investigate the drama, power and unexpected machinations of contemporary society through the image of the human figure. Using technically and stylistically diverse practices, Sean Connaughty, Clea Felien, Celeste Nelms, Ben Olson, and Melissa Stang individually construct familiar but often, disconcerting vignettes of life in the twentyfirst century. Personal or detached, routine or exotic, these works, at their core, explore the human condition - our attempts to communicate, create, consume and conquer others.

All of the artists are painters except Nelms, whose toned gelatin silver prints depict premeditated tableaux featuring the artist as protagonist "engaging" with found manmade objects in natural outdoor settings. Repurposing these objects collected from yard sales and thrift stores, Nelms fabricates new unorthodox personal identities. For example, in “Hulk” a small, plastic Hulk action-figure becomes an object of desire in an operatic scenario where Nelms assumes the persona of a life-size Hulk. Should this image be read as a humorous bit of theatrics, a flippant remark about desperate love, or a commentary on the media and entertainment industry’s relentless ability to alter self-perception and personal priorities? Nelms lets us decide.

Felien's sketchy, expressionistic paintings on paper counter the specificity of Nelms’ images. Figures carrying out routine activities seem disoriented by their surroundings as Felien places them uncomfortably at the edges or the center of the white page, signaling a psychological and emotional dislocation. In many works, the figures are only partially realized, as if they were just entering or leaving our scope of vision. The ambiguity of their status is visually confusing as we struggle to understand what these figures are doing. For Felien, these are portraits, not of physical form, but of the complicated human psyche. Gestural and distorted, her figures are inhabited by an impermanency that magnifies the unpredictability of contemporary society.

Connaughty's oil on panel paintings depict a disturbingly true but little-known narrative of astronauts lost in space. Eerie, anonymous, even threatening, Connaughty’s dreamlike images of faceless, helmeted figures in protective space suits envision the aftermath of the doomed, privately funded, 1992 spaceflight where the spacecraft disappeared. Coded transmissions received in 2006 and interpreted by other astronauts, which are believed to have been sent by the lost explorers, are the source of Connaughty's paintings, which make visible a metaphorical nexus between humanity's unending ambition for success and its looming potential for failure.

Stang's graphic, illustrative works on paper capture the banal but infuriating experience of our attempts to communicate in the age of technology, whether it is with a financial institution, a doctor’s office, or airline and credit card companies. Employing an installation format, Stang has mounted more than three dozen works, whose ostensibly random, salon-style placement amplifies the disconnect between our need for information and our inability to access it. Facile and abstracted, Stang’s figurative drawings, executed with an economy of line, strike at the essence of our technology-driven lives, where the blurring of public and private realms is often uninvited. In their simplicity, Stang's images convey our unfulfilling endeavors and failures to interact.

Olson's expressionistic paintings on panel explore a single subject, the relationship between the artist and his wife, Emma. Looking cinematic, the paintings track the public and private interactions of the two, often focusing on one or the other, transforming the viewer into the voyeur. Here, each panel portrays a single distraught-looking Ben or Emma, peering through drips of paint, some blood-red. These are psychologically animated works grounded in the protagonists' daily activities, but their loaded content and expressive brushstroke makes them the indirect heirs to early 20th century German Expressionists, and the French Nouveau Realism artists of the 1960s.

Collectively, 5 constructs an unorthodox but arguably accurate perspective on the human condition. That the artists have chosen only to convey the dark side of life, and none of its joys or beauty, is indicative of the overwhelming forces confronting our daily existence. Individually, each body of work seems to confirm that we are our own peculiar collaborator, even enemy, in life’s ongoing travails. But viewed collectively, the five artists’ works seem to suggest that we are also our only salvation.

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