For a contemplative look at humanity through an anthropological lens, two new exhibitions at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art are rich fodder for imagination and introspection. “Mid-Century Modern,” by John Ferry, and “Animal Show,” by Nora Othic, offer vigorous and adroit renditions of our efforts to consummate our species’ insatiable yearning for self-expression through form and function. And it is almost by virtue of the superlative quality of their subjects — both buildings and beasts — that the pieces reveal an idealized vision that, once achieved, is only a simulacrum of our raw and emotional reality.
Ferry’s work is an oil on panel tour through a primarily residential universe of structures and dwellings that exude an ambiance of mid-century modern architecture. The buildings present themselves with a stylish and provocative obsolescence, and yet their modernity strikes out against an atmosphere of disuse and abandonment.
Many of the pieces juxtapose their subjects against nature, and in the pitched battle of this contrast, the buildings may seem like a stately invading force. But despite their intrusion into these verdant realms, one can’t help but admire their elegance and the impact of their geometry. Such precisely engineered edges and angles are almost an obscenity when hewn amidst the unchoreographed splendor of trees and fields. Yet through this perversion of the landscape, Ferry invites us to consider the dreams and ambitions of those who design and build and live within these spaces. Such portrayals reflect a level of intimacy that belies the stark absence of any actual human beings. With the residents conspicuously absent, viewers may feel like they’re visiting a ghost town; the handsome edifices are left alone to speak on behalf of their occupants’ ambitions and lives.
Ferry’s stylistic choices enhance the haunting climate of his tribute to vintage modernity. The texture and application of his oils gives the vegetation a hazy, evanescent look — as if we’re observing scenes from a remote and inaccessible future. In some of the entries, like Modern 10a, the technique is powerful enough to imply that Mother Nature is making a valiant effort to re-encroach onto humanity’s bastion of glass and aluminum.
As our journey continues, works like Station #3, Livestock Exchange, and Modern x2 #1 insinuate themselves into our headspace even more boldly, as all signs of nature have been eliminated. Without this contrast, the environment feels even more foreboding. We see nothing but proud structures that appear to have been abandoned by their human keepers. The isolation and silence in this group paradoxically speaks volumes. Particularly in Station #3, there is little expectation that people will ever again visit or use this old filling station. It exists only as a eulogy to the vision and ingenuity of its long-departed makers.
The companion exhibit, Nora Othic’s Animal Show, celebrates animals that have been groomed and cared for by people. Her phalanxes of roosters and rabbits look resplendent, but the art still asks us to ponder the way in which humanity impacts and adulterates the animal kingdom.
In the few pieces that do depict people, they receive no greater attention than the ensemble of farmland creatures. Were an alien visitor from another world to study the art, they might be forgiven for concluding that humans are a subservient species, given the prominent manner in which Othic’s human subjects are seen cleaning and tending to their animal charges. The beasts, while reflecting the inspiration and aesthetic penchants of their caretakers, remain in command of the exhibit.
Four Seasons is one of the most distinctive and immersive entries in the exhibition. Each panel, in beautiful detail, showcases birds and insects at large in their habitat as a year unfolds. Unlike Othic’s other pieces, these faunae are wild and sovereign. Each season embodies a frenetic and organic energy, and there is no consideration that anyone will arrive to tame these scenes. The metamorphosis of the seasons further insulates the subjects from the whims and avarice of homo sapiens. The panels articulate their narrative like a vibrant stage play and give viewers a taste of what might be missing from Ferry’s universe of stoic houses and facilities.
Combined, the current exhibitions divulge a great deal about what we can learn about ourselves by scrutinizing the realities we create. The obvious passion both artists have for their subjects makes the experience all the more enjoyable and rewarding.
“Mid-Century Modern” and “Animal Show” continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through July 27. Hours are 11 a.m.to 5 p.m. Tuesday –Saturday. For more information, 816-221-2626 or www.sherryleedy.com