Donald Morgan: Black and Yellow / Kelly O’Brien: Kulture High

Donald Morgan: Black and Yellow / Kelly O’Brien: Kulture High

Guest reviewer Russ White gets an early look at SooVAC's two newest exhibits "Black And White" and "Kulture High" - both opening June 6th

Donald Morgan: Black and Yellow / Kelly O’Brien: Kulture High
June 6 – July 18, 2015
Opening reception June 6, 6-9pm
Soo Visual Arts Center, 2909 Bryant Ave S

When most people think of war zones and old westerns, they conjure up gritty images of haggard men, rough terrain, and sweat-soaked, high-stakes stand-offs. Apparently artist Donald Morgan is not most people. His show at SooVAC, which opens this Saturday at their new Bryant Avenue location, is a much more minimal affair.

Comprised of two distinct bodies of work, (one mostly black, the other mostly yellow) “Black and Yellow” is a collection of sculptures and paintings inspired by literature. The black pieces draw reference from novels such as Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War classic The Things They Carried, although the viewer would be hard pressed to make that connection right off the bat. Plywood panels veneered in black laminate stand and hang impassively in the space, riddled with perfectly cut holes that initially call to mind oversized dominoes. But the installation’s centerpiece, Black Flag, stands out from the rest: a jagged-edged plywood flag flies taut a few feet off the ground while something resembling a Pac Man ghost leans morosely against the flagpole. The ghost, whose drilled holes resemble eyes, stands out as the most figurative piece here, an actual character amid the plywood panels and boxes.

Donald Morgan, Black Flag Wood, acrylic laminate, 2013

This helps you realize two things about the show: first, there is a narrative to be found here. The holes in the other pieces start to read as bullet holes or, in the case of Screen II, as windows in which a sniper might be hiding (the Tom and Jerry mousehole door at the bottom gives it away). The second realization is that, despite its stylistic nod to the often overserious Minimalists, Morgan’s work has a tremendously dark sense of humor. Black Flag reads like a perverse reimagining of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima while Observer, a stack of black boxes riddled with holes, stands in the corner like some poor fool that’s been shot all to hell. The horrors of war are here, albeit simplified down almost to two dimensions.

The “Yellow” portion of Morgan’s exhibition is decidedly less dreary and not only because of the change in palette. More obvious in its American Western inspiration (specifically Robert Coover’s cowpoke fever-dream novel Ghost Town), this half of the show is more obvious in its narrative humor as well. In the gallery’s back bay, a stainless steel cast of a cowboy hat (or is it a fedora?) hangs on a long, bright yellow panel cutting across the wall horizontally. Viewed alone, The Kid might read as some kind of bizarre homage to Joseph Beuys and Pharrell. In this installation, however, the piece hovers directly between two large vertical panels holding coils of yellow rope, one of which is knotted into a hangman’s noose. You get the sense that the Kid may not be coming back for his hat. The simplicity of the yellow panels serves to highlight the rope coils and the steel casting, both visually and narratively, and the effect is at the same time menacing and impotent, like viewing museum artifacts of a long-forgotten atrocity.

Donald Morgan, Enough Rope Acrylic laminate, wood, and rope; 2014

The opposite wall hosts a large-scale yellow and silver quadriptych titled Broken Windows, which captures the sense of a disjointed narrative perhaps better than any other piece in the show; in front of that sits a small stainless steel sculpture called Cow Pie with Mushrooms. Truth in advertising. I’m not sure if Morgan cast the latter directly off of cow shit, but it serves as a hilarious punctuation mark for this literary-minded body of work.

If “Black and Yellow” is a pseudo-minimal meditation on American masculinity inspired by the written word, Kelly O’Brien’s “Kulture High” in the adjoining space is almost exactly the opposite. A bright and brash collection of grotesquely bulging boxes, hissing cat faces, and squishy pink blobs, O’Brien’s exhibition wraps highbrow considerations in lowbrow materials. You are besieged on all sides by nylon, duct tape, spray paint, and (good god) spandex. Throughout the show, realistic oil paintings of cats screech and bare their teeth in apparent disapproval. Several of the wall-mounted assemblages appear to have taken a fluorescent dump on the floor in the form of deflated beach balls, overstuffed envelopes, or giant wads of aluminum tape. The effect is a glorious clusterfuck of internet cat worship and drag queen explosion.

Kelly O'Brien, Glory Rock Vinyl, pine, duct tape, spandex, and latex paint; 2014

O’Brien’s intent is to explore “how contemporary art and pop culture compete and complement one another,” and her show, despite its garish sensibilities is not without its cultural antecedents. Glory Rock, an assemblage of hot pink vinyl and spray painted two by fours that appears to be some crude rumination on female biology, actually calls to mind some of Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures. And, call me crazy, but several of O’Brien’s spandex-clad wall boxes give off the faintest whiff of Eva Hesse, another sculptor known for bridging the gap between high and low with unconventional materials. But maybe trying to validate this exhibition by looking for hidden references to our cultural canon is totally missing the point. The references are there, (baldly evident in titles such as Cat vs. Sculpture and Abstract Expressionism BAD!) but they are played for laughs. One of contemporary High Art’s gravest sins has been to take itself too seriously, and O’Brien is quick to let the air out of that balloon. The art is lumpy, the cats are grumpy, and a good time will be had by all.

Kelly O'Brien, Metallic Aggression Spandex, duct tape, latex, glitter, spray and oil paint, 2014

Black and Yellow and Kulture High run until July 18 with an opening reception Saturday, June 6, from 6 – 9pm. Visit soovac.org for more info.

- Russ White


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OPENINGS & EVENTS
Thu Jun 29th 6PM CST Night 1
White Page Gallery
3400 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis
Thu Jun 29th 6PM - 9PM CST
Sabes Jewish Community Center
4330 S Cedar Lake Rd, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 12PM - 4PM CST
The Soap Factory
514 2nd St. SE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 7PM - 9PM CST
Public Functionary
1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Fri Jul 7th 5PM - 9PM CST
AZ Gallery
308 Prince Street, St. Paul
Fri Jul 7th 6:30PM - 9PM CST
Highpoint Center for Printmaking
912 West Lake Street, Minneapolis
Fri Jul 7th 7PM - 10PM CST
Red Garage Studio
3640 Garfield Ave S, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 2PM CST Artist Talk
Katherine E. Nash Gallery
405 21st Ave S, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 4PM - 10PM CST
Fulton Brewery
2540 2nd St NE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 5PM - 8PM CST
Showroom
615 W Lake St, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 6PM - 8PM CST
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 7PM - 9PM CST
Public Functionary
1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 15th 6PM - 11PM CST
Midway Contemporary Art
527 Second Avenue SE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 15th 7PM - 11PM CST
Gamut Gallery
717 S 10th St, Minneapolis
Thu Jul 20th 5PM - 8PM CST
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Fri Jul 21st 6PM - 9PM CST
Hair And Nails Gallery
2222 1/2 E 35th ST, Minneapolis
Jul 22nd - Jul 23rd
Stevens Square Park
1801 Stevens Ave, Minneapolis
Jul 29th - Jul 30th
Loring Park
1382 Willow St, Minneapolis
Aug 4th - Aug 6th
Uptown
Hennepin Ave and Lake St, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 15th 7PM - 11PM CST
Gamut Gallery
717 S 10th St, Minneapolis
Aug 5th - Aug 6th
Powderhorn Park
3400 15th AVE E, Minneapolis
Thu Sep 7th 6PM - 7:30PM CST
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE, Minneapolis
Sat Sep 9th 6PM - 9PM CST
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Sat Sep 9th 6PM - 9PM CST
Traffic Zone
250 3rd Ave N, Minneapolis
Fri Oct 6th 6PM - 8PM CST
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis
NOW SHOWING
May 12th - Jun 30th
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357 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Feb 25th - Jun 30th
801 Washington Lofts
801 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis
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Ditch Gallery
400 1st Ave N #535, Minneapolis
May 20th - Jul 1st
Circa Gallery
210 N First St, Minneapolis
Apr 29th - Jul 1st
Midway Contemporary Art
527 Second Avenue SE, Minneapolis
May 25th - Jul 1st
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Jul 2nd
Southern Theater
1420 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 2nd
AZ Gallery
308 Prince Street, St. Paul
Jun 21st - Jul 6th
Showroom
615 W Lake St, Minneapolis
Jun 12th - Jul 8th
Space 369
2242 University Ave, St. Paul
Jun 10th - Jul 8th
The Porch Gallery
3306 Park Avenue, Minneapolis
Jun 3rd - Jul 9th
Flanders + Associates
818 West Lake St, Minneapolis
May 26th - Jul 14th
Light Grey Art Lab
118 East 26th St, Minneapolis
Jun 3rd - Jul 15th
Katherine E. Nash Gallery
405 21st Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Annex
25 Groveland Tr, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Jul 16th
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis
Jun 22nd - Jul 23rd
Isles Studios
1311 W. 25th Street, Minneapolis
May 6th - Jul 28th
Independent Filmmaker Project MN
550 Vandalia ST, St. Paul
May 25th - Jul 31st
Minnesota Museum of American Art
141 E 4th Street, St. Paul
May 20th - Jul 31st
Two Rivers Gallery
1530 E Franklin AVE, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Aug 4th
Christensen Center, Augsburg College
2211 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Aug 4th
Gage Family Gallery (Augsburg)
2211 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis
May 11th - Aug 12th
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 15th - Aug 24th
Sabes Jewish Community Center
4330 S Cedar Lake Rd, Minneapolis
Jun 24th - Sep 1st
801 Washington Lofts
801 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 17th - Sep 10th
Weisman Art Museum
333 E River Pkwy, Minneapolis
Jun 1st - Sep 30th
Track 29 City Apartments
2841 Bryant AVE S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Apr 17th
The Soap Factory
514 2nd St. SE, Minneapolis