Los Angeles

Exquisite Torsi

David Stuart Galleries

This group show consists of a lively miscellany of mannequins, dummies, and plaster casts which have suffered some shocks that even flesh is not heir to; in the process they mock the human nude, torso style, as an ideal form. A group sculpture exercise in Dadaist body-building, the exhibit has the inevitably forced tone and minor quality of an anthology of occasional verse; its saving grace is humor and a good title. Though a few epicene torsi appear (such as the mute grey “Cloud Torso” by Vija Celmins), the forms shown are predominantly female, profusely treated to all manner of punning and decorative gambits, and surprisingly low, given the subject and current cultural climate, in pornographic content. Most are heavily frontal, as befits the mannequin, but Cply’s “Smith Brother” has an energetic Skopaic twist, and one or two others vary the pattern. In an atmosphere of high clutter, one of the most pleasantly stark pieces is Emerson Woelffer’s “Signorina Italia,” a flatly painted tricolor torso in red, white, and green; on her backside, where one might expect the open-hearted national pinch, there is evidence instead of the clandestine hand of the Mafia. Guy Williams’ “Labor Day” is an immoderately pregnant torso demonstrating an abdominal support cum garter belt arrangement; the swollen belly is cheerfully equipped with a recorded “baby,” whose mature voice says things like “Go soak yr head” when the appropriate string is pulled. Some rather interesting black and white collage items decorate the pedestal and the pun is made by a charming pin showing two workers from another time celebrating Labor. The only overt reference to the torso as Art History is P. Annon’s “Just One More Winged Victory,” in which a teratoid figure, ornately vertebrated and feathered, provides a pubic nest for an extremely long-beaked bird. The separable mannequin hand seems to have a large appeal––Hassel Smith, James Strombotne, and Zebada all use it for its surreal properties: Strombotne elegantly manicures it with green and blue painted nails and grows it out of his white torso’s neck; Zebada makes it fleshily masculine, gives it an apple, and thrusts it out of the midsection of a thin Eve; and Hassel Smith casually drops it near his painted “Sebastopol Mama.” Probably the most intriguing of the torsi is Carol McFee’s “Baby Jane,” a rococo metal version of the didy-doll as objet d’art, with built-in lights, photographs, and secret vistas of anxiety behind an innocent exterior. In general, however, the truncated corpus of Dada is exhumed in this show for its frivolous rather than its sinister aspect. The contributors include some mysterious strangers.

––Nancy Marmer

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