Eric Bainbridge

Upon entering Eric Bainbridge’s show of five fake-fur-covered sculptures, one felt a bit like Alice when she tumbled into Wonderland and swallowed a pill that made her grow small. Looming up to 11 feet in height and comprising disparate forms whose identities are often obscure, the works are at once humorous and disconcerting. A low-slung dinosaur with a disjointed tail wears on its back a skyscraper, a ship, and a human head; a colossal swan is laden with a faucet, a rose, a ship, and two bulbous forms that look like furry hassocks. Uncomfortably distorted and abnormal in scale, the works by this young London artist represent more a Wonderland gone awry than a recent development in the tradition of 20th-century British sculpture.

Constructed from chicken wire, plywood, and plaster onto which the fur fabric has been stapled and glued, the earliest works from 1985 are dressed primarily in ocelot. The 1986 pieces are sheathed in a fashion parade of animal skins, including tiger, ermine, and leopard as well as solid black, purple, and candy stripes, and assume a more rakish air. In the most recent work, Handle, 1986, made in Minneapolis for this show, Bainbridge painted huge purple spots on a faun-colored fur. Regardless of fur type, the individual components of each work were inspired by either human organs or the cheap mass-produced items that threaten to overrun capitalist society. In Dark Style Swan, 1985, the not-so-graceful water fowl was modeled after a banal soap dish; a kitschy vase in the shape of a man inspired elements of Statue (of Tommy Ferzachely), 1986. Salt and pepper shakers and a metal mold of Bambi were the genesis of Handle, Bainbridge’s simplest and most puzzling composition to date.

Bainbridge’s obsessive scrambling of objects and organs—dislocating heads from bodies, combining utterly incongruous objects—thwarts our attempt to recognize individual forms or to decode a piece. The furriness of the works further obscures their meanings. Like a sensory deprivation device, it homogenizes detail and inhibits a clear reading of form. Moreover, the multiple associations that we bring to the work—stuffed animals, parade floats, fake-fur coats, animal-skin rugs, and real animals—are never assuaged. Bainbridge’s sculptures are, in fact, all of these things, but only for the brief moment before they transmute into their actual aberrant selves. Like Alice trying to comprehend her shifting surroundings, we are never able to grasp the specific content of a piece.

Each is an intuitive response to the ideas, objects, and situations that encompass the artist. Their odd components coalesce in a subconscious manner and are not meant to be neatly understood. In its ability to subvert the conventional notions of fine art through materials and the use of common objects, Bainbridge’s work is an eccentric synthesis of Dada, Pop, and arte povera. In the spirit of Pop, he gently mocks the formalist sculptures of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore by punching holes through some of his forms. Unlike most Pop sculptures, however, Bainbridge’s possess a dark, slightly perverse quality underneath their humorous skins, which links Bainbridge more directly to Joseph Beuys than to Claes Oldenburg. And like both Beuys and Marcel Duchamp, Bainbridge endorses the notion that any use of a material or object is possible.

Bainbridge’s sculptures clearly straddle a fine line between being psychologically loaded forms operating on multiple levels and absurd ’80s-style art gimmicks. The danger of their becoming the latter obviously derives from the fake fur and the works’ refusal to release specific information. Ultimately, however, the enigmatic closure of these pieces and their ostensible promise of information make them seductive.

Mason Riddle