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Hunting in the Wilds of Imagination
The New York Times, Sunday, May 1st, 2005
Art Reviews/ Helen A. Harrison/ page 10

"The Trophy Room"

Coming from a long line of market gunners and baymen, the sculptor Michael Combs might be expected to advocate recreational hunting and fishing. Instead, his installation is a sardonic parody of these pursuits that once were survival skills, as well as his family's livelihood, but that have come to represent what is known as "blood sport".

Mr. Comb's "Trophy Room" mimics the masculine environments created by big game hunters as testaments to their prowess. Cordoned off from the rest of the museum by a curtain if camouflage netting, the room bristles with antlers, horns and hides, deliberately evoking Theodore Roosevelt's den at Sagamore Hill, where the souvenirs of his numerous expeditions are displayed.

But amid the welter of taxidermy, rustic furniture and period artifacts are objects that explore the dark side of so-called sportsmanship. "Big Game," a stuffed deer head clad in zippered black leather, cloaks the trophy in the classic garb of sadomasochism, a motif echoed in several game-bird effigies. Sensuous carvings resembling elephant tusks and the long necks of decapitated swans are studded with knobs, further eroticizing the theme of violent conquest.

A pair of children's riding toys - a goose on rockers and a sawn on springs - extend the metaphor of cruelty masquerading as amusement. Their necks pierced by handles, the creatures seem to writhe in agony, a far cry from the innocent playroom hobby horse.

Apart from some fishing tackle and a few boxes of shotgun shells, the hunter's weapons are conspicuously absent. No firearms, real or simulated, are on display. This somewhat blunts the installation's impact, because the guns themselves are potent phallic symbols.

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