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“The body is organic, with beautiful shapes and forms – hopefully,” quips Ray Fleming, the owner of Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham.
What he’s referring to is the concept of his studio’s upcoming exhibit, “BODS: Rethinking the Figure,” which includes work from 18 artists – six of whom are local – who have a distinct, rare perspective in portraying the human body. An opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 24 will launch the exhibit, which runs through Dec. 19.
“What we’re trying to showcase is a group of work that surprises you,” says Ben Kiehl, the gallery’s managing director. “We have realism in the show, but even then there’s something kind of off about it.”
Robert Mapplethorpe, the legendary photographer who documented the underground gay scene – including S&M – in the late ’70s, is the epitome of that. Kiehl calls him a “precocious image maker,” and says that his distorted, classical take on photo-realism eases his art’s provocative nature.
“That’s kind of the big debate about his work,” says Kiehl. “Is it pornographic?”
One self-portrait, with its blurred-out bondage set-up, actually borrows a triangular composition used often during the Renaissance period – and “it just so happens that he’s wearing leather,” Kiehl notes. He adds that it’s beautifully composed, and, “it didn’t matter if it was two guys doing something because it’s the same thing with a bowl of apples: It’s the formal aspects.”
Of all the artists displaying work at “BODS,” Mapplethorpe is perhaps the most well-known, especially within the gay community, but Evan Penny’s life-like sculptures, made of silicon and real hair (even veins are visible), are sure to turn heads. Ryan Sullivan’s “Send Me No Flowers,” an oil painting from this year, is tagged with this artist-written description: “The oil seeping from the reverse side of the paper, along with the printing flaw in Doris Day’s right eye, suggest concealment or veiled information, something lurking within. Much like Rock Hudson’s closeted homosexuality.”
Other artists include Larry Rivers, Judy Fox and Julie Heffernan, along with local artists Clinton Snider, Robert Schefman, Robert Wilbert and Cyrus Karimipour.
“It’s going to be a really, really exciting show with a lot of out-of-the-box, conceptual ideas,” Fleming says.
Fleming and Kiehl selected artists who don’t typically work with the figure, asking them for pieces that represented the body in an ambiguous way. Instead of being pronounced in demonstrating its subject, the art is figurative. It has the feeling of a figure, but isn’t necessarily identifiable as one.
“The figure is probably the most used subject in all of art history,” Kiehl says. “Since the beginning, with early cave paintings, it’s evolved. Today, it’s often used in ways that are very abstract – not so much, this is an arm, and this is a leg.
“It’s using the figure in ways where you almost don’t recognize things as a figure. It’s a good subject. In good art the subject never really matters that much.”
‘BODS: Rethinking the Figure’
Oct. 24-Dec. 19
Opening reception: 5-8 p.m. Oct. 24
Robert Kidd Gallery
107 Townsend St., Birmingham