THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
The Condo Association
by Larry Kamphausen
The name, The Condo Association, leads one to think of a structure. It isn’t until one enters the non-descript building on North Avenue that one discovers a gallery in a condo unit. Not knowing what to expect from the show, “Nandi,” was equally opaque, but I had expected a visual interaction with some religious theme involving the erotic.
The theme of the exhibit, curated by Dominique Knowles, was two contrasting understandings of the Divine: the Hindu Kamadhenu or sacred cow whose blood is not to be shed and the Christian Eucharist in which the divine “Lamb of God” is consumed as bread and wine. The work of the ten artists was compelling, but it was a stretch to find either the Hindu or the Christian religious themes visually referenced in the works.
Apart from the theme, the work of the exhibiting artists drew me in with the differing media and artistic expression of the erotic in the two poles of the exhibit’s theme. Most of the pieces in the exhibit, from the fine detail of the collaborative drawings of Pfeiffer + Walz to Rohan Khanna’s simple dark blue and black cave, Vertigo Canyon II, presented erotic encounter as a setting apart and consuming desire.
The total effect of “Nandi” wasn’t so much an interaction with the religious concepts but the religious concepts serving as a launching pad into the ways erotic desire plays between putting the romantic other upon a pedestal and seeking to bring the romantic other into oneself.
Putting Eros up on a pedestal is explicitly shown in Ignacio Maria Manrique’s simple water color, Felix and the Hermaphrodite in Paris. Manrique’s work depicts one featureless figure on a pedestal and a second shadowy figure in a pose of rapt attention. Eros as a consuming desire was hinted at in James Kerley’s ceramic pieces, Kiss, each depicting two men in a kiss. In both pieces, the point of contact between the faces is blurred such that the kiss also gives the uneasy sense that the faces may be eating each other.
Caleb Yono’s two untitled works dealt with the erotic themes less overtly than Kerley. Both paintings have central figures surrounded by strokes of blues and greens, giving the impression of the canopy of a forest with sky revealed between leaves. In one piece, we see a portion of the two figures, one a decapitated torso embraced by the second figure of which we see only the head, shoulders and arms embracing the decapitated figure, giving expression to a merging. Yet the absent head also leaves a feeling of incompletion and distance.
The second work, two canine/human figures are distinct but joined at certain points. We get a sense of a frozen moment in which their union is their separation. Yono’s works depict Eros in movement from unitive consumption to adoration that keeps them distinct.
The most striking and most reflective of some western symbolic religious depictions was Anwar Mahdi’s Venus Escapes from the Underworld with its vivid colors and chaotic and grotesque depiction of the land of the dead. Mahdi’s piece was a feast for the eyes that reminded this reviewer of Dante and Hieronymus Bosch.
I returned to this piece many times simply captured by its vibrant colors and depiction of the grotesque. This piece didn’t fit with the rest except that it captured one’s gaze and its draw was in it being set apart, both in theme and placement in the stairwell to the condo’s second floor.
“Nandi” didn’t visually and conceptually explore the religious tropes of its theme, rather those tropes served as an organizing principle for works that largely explored erotic desire as a movement between Eros as distanced otherness and consumption of the romantic other. Once I set aside the expectation of a deeper visual engagement with the Hindu and Christian religious concepts and mythology, the exhibit’s exploration of the erotic hung together.
One should approach The Condo Association without expectation. If “Nandi” is any indication of the future, exhibitions at The Condo Association may not be what one expects, but, no matter the proposed theme, one will not be disappointed.
Anwar Mahdi, Venus Escapes from the Underworld .
The Condo Association, 2700 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel 312-636-5440 By appointment.
Rev. Larry E. Kamphausen, OJCR is an icon painter, theologian, writer, ordained minister, and goth. Larry also writes for the dark alternative Kilter Magazine. He is co-founder and member of the co-operative gallery Agitator.