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MODERN NATURE IN A LAND OF STEEL FORESTS AND BALLOON BLOSSOMS
List of artists includes: Robert Beck, Michael Combs, Tara Donovan, Tom Friedman, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Richard Long, Alyson Shotz, Yukinor Yanagi
By Roy Proctor
Sunday, November 12, 2000 Edition: City, Section: Entertainment, Page H-1


Don't expect any of the art cliches - realistically painted duck decoys with mallard-green heads, for example, or paintings that look like vintage covers for Field & Stream - that we associate with so-called wildlife art in the show called "Wildlife" at the Reynolds Gallery.Thanks largely to the cooperation of the James Cohan Gallery in New York, Reynolds Gallery director Beverly Reynolds has come up with a two-floor, 22-work array that subverts our wildlife-art expectations at every turn. "Wildlife" introduces - or, in the case of Yukinori Yanagi and Tara Donovan, reintroduces - Richmonders to the work of many sculptors who are current darlings of ArtNews, Art in America and other leading art journals.

It also pushes any definition of post-20th-century wildlife art to its limit and beyond.

Reynolds keeps her theme purposely vague. These artists "examine issues of the urban and natural world," she writes. "Far from traditional portrayals of nature as conventional, physical landscape, 'Wildlife' explores the dichotomies between the two with humor and imagination."

A few of the works relate more or less to our traditional ideas of wildlife art.
Michael Combs, whose family has made decoys for five generations, is represented by his meticulously carved (in basswood) and painted (in oil and acrylic) "Cormorant's Wing," which hangs elegantly on the wall.In "Untitled (Drinking Straws)," Tom Friedman has spliced together hundreds, if not thousands, of clear drinking straws to suggest an anemone or other exotic flora on the ocean floor.Alyson Shotz has created a "forest" out of steel rods, tape, latex rubber and Q-tips in "Field," but the forest effect is as stunted as it is colorful. In a battle between nature and man-made pollution, nature would seem to have been on the losing side in Shotz's vision.
In his "Inflatable Balloon Flower (Yellow)," Jeff Koons has fashioned a 5-foot-tall blossom out of beach-ball-like material.

The larger works are arranged downstairs and have the effect of an installation. For example, you look across former Richmonder Donovan's untitled floor sculpture, in which hardened droplets of Elmer's glue suggest an arctic waste, to see Koons' gigantic flower through Shotz's forest. Meanwhile, Combs' wing, several "fingerprint stones" by Richard Long, and Yanagi's "One Dollar" - very similar to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' recent Yanagi acquisition in which ants created patterns in colored sand representing a dollar bill - compete for the eye's attention on the walls.

Some of the most amusing pieces, however, are on the second floor, where, at the top of the stairs, the visitor confronts "I Don't Know Them," in which Tony Oursler projects amoving eyeball onto a fiberglass sphere.If that isn't enough to catch your eye, check out Damien Hirst's "What Goes Up Must Come Down," in which the air in a hair dryer holds a pingpong ball suspended in space in a Plexiglas enclosure."The Standing Deer," in which Robert Beck has based his imaginative representation of a deer on the cardboard core of a roll of toilet paper, is also good for a knowing smile, if not a laugh.

Proprietor Reynolds is preening proud of her current exhibition, and well she should be.

Nothing had sold at last report, but you wouldn't necessarily expect works of this sort to sell to any degree in RichmondsLike the Virginia Museum's recent "Vanitas" show, "Wildlife" exposes Richmonders to recent works on the cutting edge of the national and international art worlds that we might not be able to see otherwise.


Michael Combs  |  New York, NY  |  info@combssculpture.com
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