originally published: April 9, 2017
It has been a month since the last entry on this site. Fortunately there are no advertisers to satisfy or much of an audience desperate for the next bite of art musings. Writing about Kate Krebs' show at the Red Arrow Gallery sat on a to-do list for four weeks. It kept getting bumped down the list, passed over by a variety of matters best described as "life" and "artist's block".
The review was going to be great. You have to believe me. It would push past the obvious references someone would come up with in 2017: Darger, paper dolls, etc and push deep into the medieval and the Northern Renaissance. There was going to be a reference to Colorforms and Karel Zeman. I missed the deadline. The show is gone. The wind has been removed from the sails. Apologies to all. Even if there is less incentive to do a deep dive on this show now, let us at least acknowledge a couple of things about the exhibition that are lacking in a lot of shows in the current art world.
First, this show was unafraid to be overt, obvious, on-the-nose, or whatever phrase you prefer. It was blatant and direct in its use of imagery and its intentions. That's a rare quality in art. "Brave" is a misused word in the art world. This was not brave. For the most part, in the United States, you are under no threat as a result of the art you make. You are, at most, in danger of having your ego wounded by criticism. To not protect your ego is not brave. It is principled but not brave. That said, there is pleasure in seeing a show that dismisses pride in order to communicate more effectively. For example, there is this detail (on the left) from Awakening of Cosmic Consciousness.
Let us recognize that the title ranks right up there with Bruce Nauman's The Artist Helps The World By Revealing Mystic Truths and Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Overall, the piece sets up a medieval composition with a basic argument of good versus evil and Paradise versus Hell. Stuck in Hell are the Vanderbilt football players convicted of rape, depicted as being in the act. They sit amongst other figures that you would expect an artist to identify as evil: capitalists, the military industrial complex, violent police officers, Trump fans and so on. And the cynical part of current art posturing wants to address these direct use of images like "capitalist demons" and say, "Come on...demons. What is this? A march or an art show?" But Dante did not pull any punches for the sake of subtlety and history has been good to his work. What is astounding, from the perspective of a Nashvillian looking at this piece is that in the center of all of this global mayhem is a direct, local condemnation that is unavoidable. That is the power of art. It can address life at a macro and micro level if an artist is willing to be bold. What other local artist has gone after this subject? No one comes to mind. If the work is there, drop me an email so I can update this post.
You could be "that guy" and start picking apart the Paradise section as being full of idealized versions of the female from a male perspective: Renoir, Botticelli, etc but you would be missing the point to satisfy that art school desire to be "right". You can be "right" and still miss the boat. Don't be "that guy" standing at the dock wondering what happened to everyone else.
The second point to consider about this show is that it is surreal in a way that precedes Surrealism. It is not a brand of surrealism coming out of Dada and a continental meltdown of war. It is more internalized than that. It is visionary. Krebs' approach to making art is not bound by limitation of ability. Every solution in the show looks like a workaround. Pursuit of Unconditional Love appears to have been created with the intention of depicting the "divine feminine" referred to in the artist statement. That "divine" depiction ends up being a giant vagina in the sky, which under closer inspection, is made by painting the sections of a knot of wood on the plywood substrate with reddish flesh tones. Out of limitation comes unpredictable visionary images. All the training in the world would not lead to such a simple, successful solution. An artist should not decide what art they can make based on what skills they possess. They should decide what art they want to make and then figure out how to make it based on what they are capable of, what they can learn and what they can live with in terms of compromise. It might end up that a compromised artwork is a lot more interesting than a masterful piece.
As previously stated, this is not meant to be a thorough examination or reflection on the show so we should put a bow on this. To quickly summarize, My Love Divine was a fantastic ride. The statement for the show addresses a number of issues that you would assume by looking at the work. It is somehow simultaneously visionary and direct so you know what it is about even if it is dragging you around the cosmos. There is a search for the "divine feminine" and a critique of Deep South Christianity. One piece punches the viewer in the face. One piece might be too heavily indebted to 50s clip art but the next is beautiful and tender. A few weeks removed from the show, all the missteps are forgotten but all of the oddball magic is still there.