Living, Breathing Art | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Living, Breathing Art

The Mississippi Museum of Art is the perfect place to while away a few hours, indoors, away from the heat and humidity. But, more than that, it's the perfect place to stimulate your mind with the several exhibits on display right now.

Upon first glance, the twelfth installment of the "Work in Progress" series at the Mississippi Museum of Art is, well, loud. A parade of pastels and cloth, the exhibit by Brooklyn-based Alex O'Neal screams (literally) unfinished. The Mississippi native and graduate of the renowned Rhode Island School of Design joins the museum in continuing to present an intriguing glimpse into a living, breathing procession of canvases.

The screaming faces in O'Neal's work are transposed onto various figureheads, some adorned by what appear to be wings, others set atop actual clothing—spread open after being cut apart at the seams in the sleeves and legs—with several surrounded by badges and medals. These faces are almost Christ-like—a few complete with stigmata bullet wounds, but at the same time they reference pop culture. They are warped portraitures, distorted by gaping and tormented expressions.

But if walls of screaming faces don't catch your attention, the materials used by O'Neal will: pastels on ordinary sheets of notebook paper (some still containing the spiral-tattered edges), giant pairs of pants, and patterned fabrics all fit into O'Neal's progression.

Elements of folk art are also evident in the exhibit, in the fact that exhibit uses ordinary materials to convey extraordinary things. This folk connection makes it fitting for the exhibit to be juxtaposed with "Magical Menagerie: Folk Art from the Permanent Collection." The collection contains works by local and self-taught artists and draws attention to a quirky assortment of materials: canvases, tin and clay among others.

Another artist featured by the museum is Ross Lunz. A resident of both Vicksburg and New Orleans, Lunz's work is currently being exhibited as part of the Mississippi Invitational. His sculpture deals primarily with consumer culture and how it effects the environment and the body. Most of his pieces explore this theme in a surprisingly visceral and articulate way, considering the limitations of visual media.

"Roux-en-Y" suggests a stomach made of fiberglass and crushed beer-bottle caps. Similarly, "H2O" portrays a bladder made of rusty found objects—nuts, bolts and other piping implements—connected to a rusty faucet. "The Pursuit of Happiness" is a disembodied eye and optic nerve composed of brightly colored plastic found objects including toy parts and bottle caps.

Lunz's sculpture presents a warning, a modern twist on the old "you are what you eat" adage. The majority of Lunz's pieces feature various body parts that deal with consumption: stomachs, bladders, eyes, ears and other orifices. His pieces are both disturbing and revelatory; they knock you off your guard and make you start to wonder just what you're made of.

In his most striking piece, "Elements of Ingestion," Lunz crafted an entire dinner set—knife, fork, spoon and bowl—entirely out of snake bones and resin. Because of the resin's pinkish finish, the sculpture looks almost alive, as though the bones had just been ripped from the snake minutes before viewing.

The bowl in particular is terrifying, with bones sticking out in a circle around the rim like the tentacles of a sea anemone and a pink sphincter of a mouth gaping at the center of the bowl. It is both harrowing and enchanting. Though it is disgusting to look at, you can't bring yourself to look away. You get the distinct feeling that, should your hand wander too close, it would immediately be seized and consumed.

The Mississippi Invitational runs through July 3, while "Work in Progress: Alex O'Neal" and "Magical Menagerie: Folk Art from the Permanent Collection" will both be at the museum until July 24th.

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