Creature Feature at the Broad Museum
By Genie Davis
Through March 19th
What is a creature? Is it a physical body? Human, animal, literal, figurative? Is it our own perception that shapes creatures from fantasies and nightmares, from our own flesh, from robotic forms? The Broad presents a new, free-to-the-public exhibit that takes up much of the space on the museum’s first floor. Creature features art works that study the human body, some that evoke a physical presence beyond the artwork, some that present otherworldly creatures. There is, in short, a variety of different viewpoints through which to view the experience of being a creature. A creation. An overlap of the two. Some works are scientific, some cultural, some spiritual. Here are over fifty works, all culled from the museum’s permanent collection.
There are paintings, sculptures, mixed media works, pop icons and more, created by more than 25 artists. Like many of the Broad’s owned-works, the artists are selected by a specific collector, and as such may or may not appeal to every viewer. This is a fascinating collection, but one that is not so much curated as displayed “as is.” Artists include Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ellen Gallagher, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Andy Warhol.
Jenny Holzer offers a black-granite sarcophasgus for the digital age, with words chiseled on the piece itself displayed additionally in an LED sign, a depiction of the evolving work of human creatures, rather than a creature itself.
Leon Golub’s unstretched canvases depict human nature at it’s worst, the “creature” of violence inside of each of us, in his depiction of torturers and killers; while Cecily Brown’s “Tender is the Night,” suggests the sexual in its somewhat surreal body parts.
It would be hard not view the dominant image here as perhaps the exhibition’s stand-out. That would be Thomas Houseago’s huge 15-foot bronze sculpture, “Giant Figure (Cyclops).” The piece grabs the eye immediately, towering against a white wall. The work looks to be a robot or a partially bandaged mummy whose wrappings are the work’s original clay slabs. It’s an exciting piece, not just because of it’s physical dominance. It’s both a somewhat fearful and jubilant work. Shown in the U.S. for the first time, this massive sculpture features of ancient Greek statuary and movie-villain robots; it is powerful, illusive, and hard to look away from.
But eventually, viewers will want to take in the mix of abstract and figurative that is Brown’s “Tender is the Night,” to try to define the bodies and bodily parts depicted in the orgiastic images. Nearby are the very easily definable cast-wax heads of Bruce Nauman, which seem a bit like something from a horror movie at first glance. The wax medium is incredibly tactile, and viewers will find themselves struck by the intimacy of confronting 10 casts of conjoined human heads hung at just-about eye level in “Ten Heads Circle/Up and Down.”
Tactile in a different way is the smooth, shiny, reflective stainless steel surface of Jeff Koons’ “Metallic Venus.” The sheer color coating and flowering plants that are a part of this piece soften what would otherwise be a sleekly modern depiction of a classic figure.
Red eyed and untamed, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Beef Ribs Longhorn” is a strong and subversive piece both wild and complex, a depiction of a fully functioning living being that is both doomed and defiant.
Politically potent, Piotr Uklanski’s “The Nazis,” is a collage of photos of actors portraying Nazis. It’s hard to find this work objectively appealing, and yet it is a strong commentary on our fascination with evil, and the pop mythologizing of it.
While the strength of the pieces here are mixed, the exhibition is nonetheless well worth seeing. Part of the appeal is the fact that the show offers a glimpse into the wide variety of creatures – and the artists who created them – that the museum’s permanent collection holds.