“Fairytales, Fantasy & Fears” at Mint Museum Uptown is so sweetly titled that you might think it is strictly family entertainment. But while you can – and should – take the kids, rest assured this exhibition has plenty of serious art.
Most of the work is from the museum’s permanent collection or on loan from collectors. But the stars are four invited artists – Tom Price, Mattia Biagi, Mark Newport and Kako Ueda.
Entering the exhibition, you encounter Price’s “PP Tree Installation,” a walk-through grove made of cut, heated and manipulated polypropylene tubes.
Price uses no adhesives – all the pieces are melted together or connected with cable ties. Fine steel wires run from the tree branches to the ceiling, adding both stability and another eerie dimension to the work. Although the materials are hard and industrial, the trees have a lacy, ethereal look, with equal measures of whimsy and menace.
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In the “Fairytales” section of the exhibition, Biagi is represented by works that riff on Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. When he moved to Los Angeles from Italy, Biagi found inspiration at the La Brea Tar Pits, which he saw as a grotesque form of preservation and nostalgia. “Before Midnight,” his child-size version of Cinderella’s carriage, is covered with tar that drips menacingly to the floor or hangs by threads that waft in the air.
Newport, featured in the “Fantasy” section, combines pop culture heroes with characteristically feminine craft, resulting in oddities such as embroidered comic book covers and knitted superhero costumes. The work may be difficult to parse without some background information – it helps to know that Newport thinks deeply about his role as father and what it means to be a man in contemporary society – but the appealing combination of irony and tenderness is immediately evident.
Skulls and spider webs
In the “Fear” section is Ueda’s spectacular “Eros and Thanatos,” an 8-by-6-foot cut-paper work that arose from heartbreak and wonder.
When her mother almost died from a brain aneurysm, Ueda developed a profound awareness of how little separates life from death. In this piece, created entirely from black paper, a skull composed of smaller skulls, spider webs and other deathly imagery gives way to a mass of hair made of life symbols, including eggs, dragonflies and foliage.
There are many other notable works in the show. Kirsten Hassenfeld’s “Sweet Nothing,” a huge, all-white, elaborate cake made of cut paper, is lit from the interior so it has a soft, otherworldly glow. Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit” is meant to be worn and danced in, creating its own sound/music and providing a transformative experience for both performer and audience; however, it is also dazzling as a static object. Kate Malone’s gigantic pots incorporate complex, shimmering glazes and bulbous forms.
The spirit of the show
The show abounds with smaller or less theatrical works that might not be fully appreciated on a first visit. Among them are Takashi Hinoda’s “Untitled (clod),” an unsettling ceramic sculpture inspired by anime, manga and graffiti, but looks like First Nations art, and the many variations on the face jug that are prevalent in the “Fear” section.
Instead of wall texts, the exhibition has intentionally goofy, macabre videos. Combined with the video accompanying Malone’s work, they generate a fair amount of background noise – a mashup of chatter, a stray Brandenburg Concerto and other music. Depending on your disposition, the effect can be hilarious or irritating – if you’re seeking a quiet, contemplative experience, it’s not going to happen here.
But I’d like to think that these videos are simply another manifestation of the spirit behind “Fairytales, Fantasy & Fears,” a spirit that makes this show simultaneously accessible and deep.