Living art

Posted on 01 Jan 2009 at 9:41am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Sculpture can literally die in Marc Quinn’s twisted, wonderful world


MARC QUINN
Goss-Michael Foundation, 2500 Cedar Springs Road. Through Jan. 23. 214-696-0555.

Maybe you’ll remember the firestorm in 1989 when a New York museum exhibited a photograph called Piss Christ, in which a crucifix was submerged in a container of urine. So fractious was the reaction that then-mayor Rudy Giuliani — before his beatification — railed against it, fueling the culture wars.

Rudy and his ilk should definitely steer clear of the Goss-Michael Foundation for a while, then; Piss Christ has nothin’ on Marc Quinn.

(That the exhibit is running in Dallas — even at the edgy Goss-Michael Foundation — and has not ginned controversy perhaps speaks to progress.)

Quinn — one of the so-called Young British Artists (nice, because he’s older than me) — is a true Renaissance man when it comes to his art, equally adept at painting (Freshwater Ice of Prince Rupert Sound, a large, vivid floral painting offers the greatest shock of color in the gallery) and traditional sculpture (the 7-foot-tall white marble called Allison and Parys, a madonna-and-child). But it’s often as much his materials that cause as much buzz as his subject matter.


MARC QUINN, MEDICINE MAN | The British artist, opposite in front of one of his lareg floral paintings, infused a wax sculpture of a diabetic with insulin, above; ‘Sky,’ below, is a frozen sculpture made entirely out of placenta. (Photos by ARNOLD WAYNE JONES/Dallas Voice and STEPHEN WHITE/White Cube)

Yes, Allison and Parys provokes discussion because the armless woman depicted is not a damaged Venus from antiquity, but a modern piece — a friend of Quinn, born with deformed limbs. But that’s nothing compared to Self II and Sky. Both sculptures are made totally out of frozen human tissue: Self II, a bust of Quinn’s head, is composed of 10 pints of the artist’s own blood — the same amount of blood in the human body (it took Quinn a year to harvest the plasma from his veins); Sky is a cast of Quinn’s infant’s head, made up entirely of the child’s placental sac.

Gross, O.K. But fascinating.

The technology is more complicated than you might imagine — this is art that is not only alive at some level, but subject to freezer burn. Both pieces are, quite literally, on life support; a power failure, and the refrigeration units that cool their containers cease to contain art.

"If you pull the plug it changes from a solid to a liquid," Quinn notes off-handedly. "In a way, these works are like the flesh of our own world," dependent upon an atmosphere that can sustain them.

Even among sophisticated art patrons, Quinn’s work is button-pushing. When I mentioned the exhibit to Nancy Nasher Haemisegger (she of the Nasher Sculpture Center family) and explained the materials employed, she blanched and couldn’t change the topic fast enough.

And we didn’t even talk about Nicholas Grogan Insulin (Diabetes), a nude male stored in a room as cold as a freezer carved out of wax and — get this — "drugs." That is, the figure itself is infused with the medicine that regulates him.

Quinn’s exhibit celebrates those outside the mainstream and forces his audience to reconsider how they perceive art.

But weird as it all is, it doesn’t seem weird once you spend time with it. Indeed, the exhibit challenges you to look beyond the shapes and at the ephemeral nature of art as it relates to humanity. Quinn uses many classic art techniques that have been around for millennia (stone-carving, bust casting) as well as common subject matter (flowers, the human form), then turns them upside down with his choices of material.

"Most of these could have been made 5,000 years ago — the only thing different is our time," Quinn says.

Except for the freezers, I note.

"Yes," he says. "There were no freezers."

A wreath-a, frankly


If you think it seems too early to be thinking about Christmas, be advised: It’s back with a (fabulous) vengeance.

After taking a hiatus for a few years, the DIFFA Wreath Auction returns, beginning Thursday.

Dozens of designer wreaths — including one from Dallas design maven Steve Kemble, made entirely out of dog toys (pictured) — will be on the (silent) auction block during Slocum Street Style Night, the 11th annual night when 30 showrooms in the Design District throw open their doors, offering their exclusive wares to the public.

In addition to the DIFFA wreaths and assorted goodies available at the galleries, Savor Dallas participants (including Fedora, Go Fish and Paciugo) will be offering a preview of the culinary treats planned for next March’s celebration of wine and food.

The length of Slocum Street will be closed to auto traffic, save for trolleys that will transport attendees from one stop to the next — or you can hoof it with a glass of chardonnay in hand. Either way, be sure to bid on the wreaths and help out DIFFA.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Slocum Street at Hi Line Drive (complementary valet available). Oct. 8, 6–9 p.m. Fee. Antiques Dallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2009.

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