What with Bernie Madoff, Osama bin Laden and the Joker -- among so many other miscreants -- all lurking in the collective psyche, is it any wonder people are edgy? When avuncular mensches betray trusting investors, recluses rain havoc from remote caves and clown-faced sociopaths run amok in the movies, there's really no escaping a Bad Day.
Now comes "Contemporary Monsters," a potent new sculpture show at Northern Clay Center that sums up today's warped karma in a series of bizarre tableaus, mutant figurines and twisted fairy tales. Organized by London-based Edith Garcia, the show is a dark triumph of cultural introspection by Garcia and six artists from around the United States.
Theirs are not your mother's tchotchkes. There are hilarious things among the "Monsters" -- a purple "Prince Zombie" mug and a Grinch bong, for example -- but most of the show turns to such weighty themes as alienation, aging, war and satires on really bad taste.
"I'm American and Mexican, so I'm overly optimistic" by temperament, said Garcia, 33, who was in Minneapolis last week to install the show. Born in Los Angeles, she grew up in El Paso, Texas, and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1998. Although she has lived in London since 2004, she's maintained roots in the Twin Cities, where she won post-college fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the McKnight Foundation.
"'Contemporary Monsters' deals with that internal animal that society teaches you not to show because it couldn't be civilized," she said. A rare autobiographical strain runs through Garcia's own new work. A wall-hung tableau of stylized ceramic figures and drawings, it includes symbolic allusions to her mother's near-death in an accident, a broken saint under a crown of thorns, a doll-like character with an exploding head and a little figure with a Pinocchio nose. Glazed in black, white and red, the figures' power comes from their masklike austerity and emotional reticence.
A stealth observer of domestic discord, Wesley Anderegg of Lompoc, Calif., produces brittle little tableaus in which doll-like figures act out neurotic narratives. In "The Capitalist," he suggests the exploitation of workers by depicting a malevolent entrepreneur holding a prisonlike model-factory in front of a portrait of Stalin. In "The Magician," a devil-horned male is apparently using psychic powers to compel a female doll to perform a robotic dance.
But lest anyone imagine that women are all victims here, Massachusetts artist Cynthia Consentino unleashed her antimale rage in the form of a 3-foot-tall "Wolf Girl" -- a wolf-headed child wearing a pretty pink frock and holding a tiny boy-toy by the neck, her finger pressed to his jugular. In smaller figurines, she screws a man's head to a dog's body and replaces a boy's left arm with a hammer. The mingling of innocence and latent violence amplifies the surreal undercurrents in her work.
Glazed with streaky carnival colors, Michael Lucero's sculptures are hilarious -- snails, deer, jars, dragons and magic lanterns that somehow meld into truly awful, tabletop monuments to kitsch.
Besides the amusing bong and the Prince mug, John de Fazio delivers war-in-an-ashtray: a Pop-style platter studded with broken bones, body parts and a skull imprinted with a map of the Middle East.
California artist Arthur Gonzalez draws fanciful new episodes of the Pinocchio story onto thick clay plaques, and Tom Bartel of Kentucky uses cracked glazes, dark stains, yarn and lank human hair to convey the ravages that age and disappointment inflict on his mutant and sexually confused figures.
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431