Toying with our tendency to trust photographs
By Cate McQuaid
“MADE,” an exhibition about visual trickery at Montserrat Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, carries water for familiar contemporary art tropes about fractured identity, photographic fiction versus reality, and the like. But gallery director and curator Leonie Bradbury focuses on fun. All the works will drop jaws, to one degree or another.
Alexa Meade, the canniest artist of uncanny work here, inverts the usual approach to trompe l’oeil painting, which makes you think you’re looking not at an image, but at something real.
Meade paints people so their bodies look flat, like drawings, and photographs them on the street. In “Come Down,” a model, painted silver, black, and white, jumps in front of a wall tagged with graffiti. He looks, at first glance, like part of the street mural. But glimpse unpainted flesh beneath the cuffs of his jeans! Tiny giveaways add to the thrill; they make you look more closely, and admire Meade’s weird artistry.
Peer into a small porthole in the wall, and you’ll see Jacobs’s woodsy scenes, which resemble photographs. They’re not. They’re intricately constructed tiny dioramas. Once you recognize that, the effect is similar to catching on to the tell in Meade’s works; you’ll marvel at the craftsmanship.Meade, Patrick Jacobs, and Kelli Connell all toy with our tendency to trust photography as a document of reality. Connell’s seamless color photographs might be portraits of identical twins. That would be disconcerting enough, given the sometimes romantic and flirtatious nature of the images — in “Valley,” one woman leans over her supine partner. In fact, Connell layers multiple negatives of a single model. The intimacy of the two selves is more unnerving than if Connell had layered in several.
The artistic duo Alexi Antoniadis and Nico Stone offer their trademark sculptural trompe l’oeil. They craft crumbling architecture out of unexpected materials. “Promised Land” looks as if a grid of glass and steel has dropped from a high rise and landed, folded over and in shards, in the gallery. Though it looks weighty, suggesting the rotting of corporate power symbolized by such architecture, gallery staffers say the artists carried it in on their shoulders.
What you see is not what you get in this show — until you get it. Contemporary as it seems, “MADE” grounds itself deep in tradition. Hasn’t art always been about fashioning believable fiction out of the tools at hand?
Montserrat Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St., Beverly, through March 29.