At the WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center), the latest exhibition takes the subject of man’s best friend as its primary theme. All artists on display are directly inspired by the dog, in The Dog’s Notes and the accompanying show WAH Bridges Man’s Best Friend: “Dog”. These artists clearly see dogs as more than pets, they are depicted with grace, humor and irony, as companions with their own unique feelings and personalities. The show is split into two areas, the main gallery holds large sculptural works by internationally known, Taiwanese artist, Poren Huang, and this is The Dog’s Notes, arranged with Po-Wen Lee, Director of Powen Gallery in Taipei, Taiwan. In the small gallery, there is a satellite exhibit, WAH Bridges Man’s Best Friend: “Dog,” curated by Yuko Nii, the WAH Center’s Founder and Artistic Director, which holds a direct dialogue with the main exhibit, and includes small works on paper, canvas and cardboard, as well as photography. Nii collected individuals showing in the small gallery from an online Open Call, beseeching dog lovers of all types to submit their two-dimensional dog works. This exhibit is an opportunity for them to display their work alongside an artist of considerable standing across Asia as an interesting and playful compliment to the main exhibit.
Kathryn Wilson’s Nyla
Dogs proliferate the small gallery in all shapes and sizes: there are dog portraits, dogs in action, dog inspired abstractions and even dog sculptures from local artists. Eric Lau’s series of three untitled photographic prints, do much more than just follow a theme, as they communicate raw urban grit and the place both humans and animals have made for themselves in this concrete environment. There are also pieces like Kathlyn Wilson’s Nyla, displaying virtuosity where the dog theme is only secondary. In this piece Wilson takes layers of paper and paint and builds them up into a 3-D collage that almost becomes sculpture, as she renders a topographic portrait of her adorable dog, Nyla. The collective works of both Debra and Jeffrey Friedkin are also worth mentioning, as they celebrate our canine companion in so many interesting ways.
Dog Sculptures by Debra Friedkin
Poren Huang, the artist who takes center stage, creates large scale sculptural works that take stylized cartoonish dogs and push them out into a concrete 3-D reality. Walking around the gallery at the opening, one had to push through the crowds that gathered around each work, as free champagne and hors d’ oeuvres circulated the exhibit. It was a large event with definite draw, viewers were beckoned in with the promise of seeing an international artist in the midst of his NYC debut. And works are strategically laid out around the gallery, so that one gets the sense of walking through a fantastical dog park where each canine friend shows off their talent and hams for the onlooker.
Poren Huang’s Sticking to My Post
Listening in on various conversations it was evident that many attending the opening drew the readily available reference to Jeff Koons, and his now infamous pop kitsch icons, such as his oversized and overdetermined balloon dog sculptures. But only the most superficial connections can really be made between the two, perhaps the decidedly pop-culture references, with animation playing a key role. Also, the high gloss and shine of the material, as baking paint and gold foil is applied over the bronze to give the sculptures an almost manufactured toy-like appearance. However, what Koons does in his line of work, specifically the sculptural pieces in his legendary Banality show of 1988, is decidedly different and cerebral in comparison to Huang. While they may certainly be infused with the aesthetic of mass and commodity culture in their toy-like appearance and high glossy finish, Huang’s sculptures are not post-modern appropriations and have not been informed by the pop-art cynicism that Koons leans on.
Poren Huang’s 21st Century and Wise Man
Huang invests each piece with a human attitude or characteristic, in this way his forms are anthropomorphic, and become mini-commentaries on the innumerable ways we project our very human concerns, morals and values onto animals. One could even think of Huang’s work as a 21st century sculptural adaptation of the Jataka tales or Aesop’s fables. In his piece, 21st Century, Huang gives us the image of a panda figure and a little dog on his shoulder pointing to a foe that lies before them. The message here is easily decoded, in our contemporary times the fortunate should be aiding the less fortunate, a strong moral appeal. Also, the bronze sculpture covered in a dazzling gold foil, Sticking to My Post, once again takes up this didactic approach, where the viewer is lead to contemplate the power of adhering to convictions or maintaining the struggle through adversity. This piece, for me, stands out as the most aesthetically striking, specifically in the way its form emphasizes the expressive content. A central influence seems to be Japanese manga and anime inspired conventions that make each piece playful and expressive: emotional content finds its expression in oversized ears or a tale, head or ears transformed into symbols and signs. Overall, a collection well worth seeing.
Jonathan Judd, Contributing Writer to the WAH Center’s Blog