There's a lot going on in That Mortal Coil (Rebuking the Ideal in Contemporary Figurative Art), CentralTrak's newest group show, curated by Heyd Fontenot. The exhibition is a search for beauty in unconventional bodily spaces, and a retaliation to how the human figure is perceived in terms of physical perfection.
Also? There's a dildo covered in dog hair.
The foot-tall, canine-hybrid sculpture, dubbed "Wolf Dong," is the work of Ari Richter, CentralTrak's former Artist in Residence who got buzz with his August 2012 solo show The Skin I Live In. There he used his own bodily cast-offs as well as re-appropriated hair and fur to make tiny tattoo flash canvases on his chewed up cheek skin, portraits out of pubic hair and a gallery show for dogs.
A dildo, erect and under glass, serves as the base for "Dong." Richter glued on bristly dog fur, directing it outward to defy gravity. It stands alert like a startled animal and has a violent, almost aggressive attitude. The wiriness appears stiff enough to scrub rusted plaque out of an ancient drainpipe.
While I was looking at this piece, a young woman walked up. She quickly became agitated, and soon the rhetoricals flowed. "C'mon, really?" she said, scanning the room for solidarity.
She grew more irate when she encountered another Richter sculpture, a soft limp tube, flipped upon itself and surrounded by long silky hair titled "Lady Dick."
"Are you kidding me?!" she asked aloud, to nobody in particular.
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Her reaction is understandable. Unexpectedly running into a "Wolf Dong" should trigger some explosive sentiments.
But isn't that the point? Richter's fascination with the body's transition into decay works in this setting, with these curatorial guidelines. Better, in fact, than it did in his freestanding solo show, where it felt more like a novelty fetish. Considering this is a reinterpretation of body beauty standards and ideals, it's tough to imagine a more conflicting image than a distended, or otherwise highly altered, sexually specific organ.
According to the show's book, the hair from "Lady Dick" is human. When it was alive, it was a symbol of vitality for its host. Once removed from the body and positioned in this environment, it becomes re-categorized as a Disgusting Dead Thing.
"Wolf Dong" presents a perfect, factory-issued phallus. An item of commerce sold to represent the human ideal. Then, Richter Teen Wolfs it, triggering an immediate adverse reaction. The combination of embellished form, dead fur and public display is repellent. Funny. And worth thinking over.