Sélection d'articles
10 septembre 2000
San Jose Mercury News
Jack Fischer
EXHIBIT EXPLORES THE CREEPIER SIDE OF PLAYFUL IMAGES
Helnwein's Mickey: It's hard to imagine another contemporary symbol so perfectly balanced between beloved childhood icon and its day job as a corporate logo.
HEY, there's Mickey Mouse at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art! Wait a minute. That's not my perky little pal from ''Steamboat Willie.'' This Mickey looks a little mean. This Mickey looks like Michael Eisner's id. Nice Mickey. Don't hurt me. Here's a dollar. That's how it goes at ''The Darker Side of Playland: Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection,'' perhaps the first show to suggest that there are indeed monsters under the bed, and you might as well get used to it. SFMOMA curatorial associate Heather Whitmore Jain struck the perfect note by opening the show with Austrian painter Gottfried Helnwein's massive and menacing oil and acrylic ''Mickey.'' It's hard to imagine another contemporary symbol so perfectly balanced between beloved childhood icon and its day job as a corporate logo. Helnwein chooses an earlier Mickey, with the smaller, darker eyes and the longer, more ratlike nose to help make his point. With his pasted-on smile and forward lunge, this Mickey looks more ready to negotiate cable and Web rights than to comfort a preschooler.
Mouse
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 1995, 210 x 310 cm / 82 x 122''
HEY, there's Mickey Mouse at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art!
Wait a minute. That's not my perky little pal from ''Steamboat Willie.'' This Mickey looks a little mean. This Mickey looks like Michael Eisner's id.
Nice Mickey. Don't hurt me. Here's a dollar.
That's how it goes at ''The Darker Side of Playland: Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection,'' perhaps the first show to suggest that there are indeed monsters under the bed, and you might as well get used to it. If Goofy were here, it's likely he'd be a 12-stepper.
But there's nothing goofy about ''The Darker Side of Playland,'' a concise culling from the vast private collection of contemporary art owned by SFMOMA patrons Kent and Vicki Logan of Tiburon, whose tastes are suitably edgy and fresh. The show is the third of seven themed exhibitions SFMOMA plans to mountfrom the collection, to be followed in summer 2002 by an overview show.
For ''The Darker Side,'' SFMOMA curatorial associate Heather Whitmore Jain has plucked from the Logans' holdings more than 30 images by 14 artists around the world. The pieces range from better-known work, such as David Levinthal's oversized Polaroid photographs of Barbie and toy cowboys, to pieces based on Asian animated characters from lesser-known artists such as Hung Tung-lu of Taiwan.
Jain's selections make clear just how popular children's pop culture icons have become as source material for a range of contemporary artists, a fact that should come as no surprise. (The current show is not the Bay Area's first to feature artists' work about toys. That distinction belongs to the D.P. Fong Gallery in downtown San Jose, which for a time staged regular holiday shows on the theme of ''Toys in Contemporary Art.'')
In many ways, toys are the ideal objects for post-modern artists: laden with cultural baggage that is ready for deconstruction, designed for open-ended fantasy and wrapped in a putative innocence that makes for easy irony. Even at this late stage of the game, there is still a tension between lingering 19th-century expectations that childhood be an innocent and idyllic time, and the uses to which these artists put the toys. All this re-imagining of toys suggests that we march backward into the future, never seeing the true meaning of what is all around us until its time finally has passed.
I hasten to say that, while the raw materials of the SFMOMA show make it very accessible, I'd resist the temptation to bring younger children -- that is, unless you're ready to explain, in your best Mr. Rogers voice, why that plush toy has its face ripped off, and this picture features Barbie in skimpy lingerie: ''Because it makes Ken happier, honey.''
Jain struck the perfect note by opening the show with Austrian painter Gottfried Helnwein's massive and menacing oil and acrylic ''Mickey.''
It's hard to imagine another contemporary symbol so perfectly balanced between beloved childhood icon and its day job as a corporate logo. Helnwein chooses an earlier Mickey, with the smaller, darker eyes and the longer, more ratlike nose to help make his point. With his pasted-on smile and forward lunge, this Mickey looks more ready to negotiate cable and Web rights than to comfort a preschooler.
Playland jumps from the old and familiar to the hypercontemporary with the work of Yoshitomo Nara, whose superficially insipid sculpture and paintings dominate the show with five large pieces. Nara's representations of children echo the bland quality of much contemporary Japanese animation, but with an ominous edge.
In ''Quiet, Quiet,'' a quartet of cartoonish, white children's heads are balanced totem-style over a white bowl with their eyes closed, looking for all the world like little death-masks of childhood. The threat becomes explicit in Nara's ''The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand,'' a '50s-style refugee from commercial illustration with her shiv at the ready.
The Asian perspective is continued in the work of Hung Tung-lu, who has photographed female video game and TV characters popular throughout the Pacific Rim and juxtaposed them with Christian imagery, a not-so-subtle commentary on missionary work of all kinds, capitalist and Christian.
Americans Lauri Simmons and David Levinthal make photographs of toys to comment about the cultural and mythological baggage they implicitly transmit. Simmons' tableaux of 1950s domestic scenes, set in the claustrophobic world of a doll house, telegraph the cramped role models such toys convey. They also perform double duty, suggesting as well the roles children unwittingly learn from them.
Levinthal, whose photographs of Barbie were at the San Jose Museum of Art last year, is the Richard Avedon of vacuum-molded plastic. Here, Levinthal's two elegant portraits -- one of our heroine dancing with Ken, and the other as I assume she may appear sometime after the ball -- speak volumes about the idealization of women in American culture, and the ambivalent messages about sexuality that Barbie conveys. Two images from his Wild West series, of plastic cowpokes, explore the creation of myth in contemporary society.
Heidi Zumbrun purchases plush toys from flea markets and lets her dog maul them before taking lavish color photographs of them on plain white backgrounds. The ambiguous images that result suggest both a toy that's been well-loved and the possibility of violence and abuse.
In an admittedly adult way, the artists may be doing no more in ''TheDarker Side of Playland'' than putting back together what Hollywood blue noses and all manner of American puritans put asunder decades ago when they began to sanitize childhood.
If it all seems terribly shocking and avant garde, let's not forget that Hansel and Gretel were held hostage and fattened so an old cannibal could dine on them. Or that Walt Disney's chief competition was once Max Fleischer, whose Betty Boop once danced with boozy ghosts to the tune of the St. James Infirmary Blues.
Now that's a theme park I would have liked to have visited.
The Darker Side of Playland, the Logan Collection
2000, SF MOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Illustration:Photos (4)
PHOTO: GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN
''Mickey,'' 1995, by Gottfried Helnwein, is featured at SFMOMA.
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PHOTO: [no photo credit]
''Untitled (Barbie Series),'' 1997-99, by David Levinthal, appears in the ''Darker Side of Playland'' exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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PHOTO: [no photo credit]
''Girl, 2000,'' by Heidi Zumbrun, above.
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PHOTO: [no photo credit]
''Bad Seed 1938,'' 1996
by Shonagh Adelman, below.
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San Jose Mercury News (CA)
September 10, 2000
Section: Silicon Valley Life
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1G
Memo:Visual Arts
Galleries




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