ART; Visual Puns Set in Folk Art
The New York Times, August 29, 1999
August 29, 1999
The New York Times
ART; Visual Puns Set in
Folk Art Sculpture
By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI
NOW and then, the most modest of galleries offers memorable
experiences. Such is the case with the current exhibition
at the Arts Council of Rockland Gallery here. Its exhibition
space consists only of limited portions of an L-shaped hallway
and one nondescript display case, but that is where one can
find the quirky, and sometimes profound, works of Ruth Geneslaw.
The influence of folk art on the mostly polychromed wood
sculptures of Ms. Geneslaw is obvious. Her stiffly postured
figures and the brightly painted and patterned surfaces recall
the sculptures of Lavern Kelly, another folk artist who shares
Ms. Geneslaw's interest in the visual pun, especially when
it comes to religion, marriage and family.
Ms. Geneslaw's social concerns are most apparent in her
piece titled ''Carrying Baggage'' (1994). In it, one sees
a man and a woman dressed for corporate success, toting transparent
suitcases that contain references to the so-called baggage
of life. They confront one another as if ready to do battle,
having both won and lost conflicts regarding family, religion,
money and vices. Behind the pair, a snake awaits the outcome,
ready to offer the forbidden fruit when given the chance.
''In Dog We Trust'' (1996-99) is Ms. Geneslaw's most blatant
strike against our faltering governmental image. Two groupings
of seven politicians flanking a flag-waving Uncle Sam in
front of the Capitol in Washington set the stage. In front
of this mass of men sits a smiling dog, as it awaits the
end of what seems to be an exaggerated photo session to ingest
its golden-brown dog biscuit.
The artist gets to the meat of her issues by inscribing
along the base of the sculpture three quotes that cast a
long and suspicious shadow across the nation's political
landscape: ''Read my lips . . . No new taxes'' -- Bush; ''I
have never obstructed justice . . . I am not a crook'' --
Nixon; ''I did not have sexual relations with that woman''
Ms. Geneslaw also sets her sights on more benign matters
like hobbies. In ''Birdwatching, Bird Watching'' (1996),
she takes aim at three pseudo-naturalists clad in outfits
that would rival some of the most outlandish retro-golf outfits,
as they carefully experience nature by observing a lone bird.
Ms. Geneslaw hints, albeit not so subtly, at the craziness
of this group by covering the base of this vignette with
Van Gogh-like swirls of line and color.
''Wearing Too Many Hats'' (1996) is Ms. Geneslaw's nearly
complete story of the contemporary homemaker. The subject,
an unfortunate woman in her middle to late 30's, requires
four arms to keep up with life's demands. Each one of her
hands holds something different: a gardening trowel, a cooking
spoon, a snow shovel and a paintbrush. On her head sits a
stack of hats, which range from chef to chauffeur, as she
races against the time regulated by a six-handed clock. At
her feet rests the family dog, a metaphor for leisure, which
presents the perfect barometer to gauge the subject's bleak
prospects. Behind the dog, and under what looks to be an
entranceway table, sits a pile of books bearing titles that
one might assume highlight the artist's preferred interests:
''Cataloguing,'' ''Abakanowicz,'' ''Humanities'' and Eva
''The Support Group'' (1993) contains Ms. Geneslaw's clearest
message. Here, one sees five seated women of various ages
and backgrounds who literally and figuratively carry the
weight of their individual worlds on their shoulders as represented
by miniature dollar bills, houses, family members and titled
books that symbolize career and education. As she did in
''In Dog We Trust,'' Ms. Geneslaw has collected phrases,
or in this case a number of cliches that would amplify the
apparent thinking here: ''Hope springs eternal,'' ''Lay your
cards on the table,'' ''Blood is thicker than water,'' ''Old
habits die hard'' and ''Hang in there.''
Her most humorous piece is titled ''Eating Crow'' (1995).
One sees a middle-age couple dining out in what looks like
a very intimate restaurant. The menu specials on the wall
read: ''Sow wild oats,'' ''Cool as a cucumber,'' ''Spill
the beans,'' ''Cook his goose,'' ''Eat crow'' and ''Smart
cookie.'' Thankfully, the melancholy man, who is about to
ingest a plate of crow, has a nice bottle of wine to wash
it down with. Her plate possesses a steak, string beans and
a few carrot slices, giving the viewer a clear picture of
her status. The fun here is the viewer's speculation regarding
the overt clues of this dilemma, which are humorously underscored
by the man's forlorn look.
Ms. Geneslaw's talent for carving and painting is most
apparent in the details. The overhanging lights above the
wall in ''Eating Crow,'' the objects in the clear cases in
''Carrying Baggage'' and the bride's bouquet in ''The Step
Children'' all have a style and a finesse about them. Ms.
Geneslaw's art is folk, not just because it looks like folk
but also because it deals with personal or shared heritage
and history through a sense of community. It is honest, and,
above all, it maintains a celebration of our very existence
despite life's inadequacies or imperfections.
Ruth Geneslaw's sculptures will be on
display at the Arts Council of Rockland through Sept. 25.
The number to call for more information is 426-3660.
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York Times Company