Savage Confections

Wood’s AMSET exhibition, ‘Curtain Call,’ subverts, repulses, delights

"Curtain Call," Ann Wood's installation at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

“Curtain Call,” Ann Wood’s installation at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

On the face of it, the gallery is filled with a syrupy confection of “girly” pastel colors and surrounded by gaudy gold frames — an explosion of stereotypical femininity. But if one draws back the metaphorical curtain, one sees a dark, harsh imagery full of violence, that turns one’s initial impression on its head.

That is the real beauty of Ann Wood’s “Curtain Call,” a multimedia installation on display at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas through Nov. 27.

The museum’s gallery space has been opened up for Wood to fill with her unique blend of scrapbooking and crafting creativity.

"Curtain Call" by Ann Wood.

“Curtain Call” by Ann Wood.

Entering the gallery, the first thing one is confronted with fountain statue that is a twisted version of the classical fountains one finds in Europe. The fountain is composed of dogs climbing and barking. But what is it they are climbing on? Oh, it is a dead stag. They are not frolicking as much as attacking in a feeding frenzy.

So this is not your grandfather’s pretty prancing animal fountain. To further add to the disconnect between the surface niceness and the dark underbelly, the construction is dripping with what looks like blue icing, like a giant layered cake. The whole thing looks like Elsa from “Frozen” cast a spell on it.

It is precisely this dichotomy between sweet and bitter, nice and nasty, feminine and masculine, which gives the exhibition its strength. We are enchanted and appalled at the same time — although the violent undertones are also deliciously appealing as well, if we are truthful with ourselves.

Wood’s work draws on the history of art, from George Stubbs lion attacking a horse, to the dead animals hanging in the kitchens of the Dutch masters. During a gallery talk at the opening reception, Sept. 16, Wood said that she seeks to subvert the old masters, taking male images of death and violence and feminizing them. The pretty-ness of the work is at odds with the subject matter, but that is the point. The almost saccharine girly-ness of the work is marvelous.

Everywhere one looks, pinks and pastel colors assault the eyes. Yet the beauty only glosses over the darkness and violence that reveals itself with careful viewing.

Ann Wood’s “Still Life With Balloons” features the carcasses of rabbits leaking blood — or is it sugar glass — onto the gallery floor. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Ann Wood’s “Still Life With Balloons” features the carcasses of rabbits leaking blood — or is it sugar glass — onto the gallery floor. Photo by Andy Coughlan

In “Balloon,” a pile of butchered rabbits lay in a pile. The blood that runs from the assemblage spills on to the floor. Yet even there, it morphs into something resembling sugar glass, all shiny and smooth — one almost wants to break a piece off and experience the sugar rush.

Wood deliberately uses materials that have traditionally been in the domain of the feminine — scrapbooking materials, craft paints and even doll hair.

The gallery is dominated by “Nest,” a large, colorful webbed piece of “candy” that invites the visitor inside, ready to suffocate them in a sugary confection. Made of fake doll hair, fake flowers and puff balls, “Nest” looks like it is made of strung-out pieces of scavenged gum. Walking through the construction, the hanging “tentacles” catch on one’s head. After a while, the piece becomes overwhelming, the same way that one gets sick of candy after a while. Wood describes it as a “craft project gone wrong.”

The title piece, “Curtain Call,” is a large assemblage that draws on the classical images of Reubens, Stubbs and other masters, complete with an opulent golden frame. From a distance it is epic and sumptuous, but a closer look reveals the lions chomping down on the prancing white horses. This is no happy frolic, but nature playing out its daily ritual of survival.

It took two weeks for the Galveston-based artist to install the show, and the attention to detail shows. Every single item had an installation element to it, with the artist employing AMSET’s staff to push pins, and Wood joked, during the opening reception, that, “It takes a village to do something like this.”

Wood uses poured plastic to create a frosted cake look. She rarely uses paint, joking that she has a “craft store philosophy.” The materials are accessible and the installations draw on the tradition of women’s scrapbooking.

One of Ann Wood's preliminary sketches.

One of Ann Wood’s preliminary sketches.

The works are layered both literally and figuratively. The layering begins with Wood sketching images on tracing paper and overlaying them to develop the image.

Wood’s work comments on the misogynist perception of women’s work — that it is pretty without depth. Basically, these installations are brightly colored images of death and violence.

“Curtain Call” is a visual feast that is exciting and dark — and is also a lot of fun. Wood leads us down a fairytale path but, as we know, granny’s gingerbread house isn’t always what it seems.

AMSET is located at 500 Main St. in downtown Beaumont.

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Review by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor