At the Mobile Museum of Art on Thursday, Nov. 12, the word of the day was “scale.” That’s when a nearly unprecedented six exhibits were unveiled simultaneously.
That descriptive also applies to the works themselves. From tiny to gigantic, Spartan to luxurious, there’s enough to overwhelm a number of sensibilities all at once.
The downstairs gallery to the left of the entranceway is occupied with the “SiZe matTERs” exhibit. The collection of objects and paintings both tiny and outsized push at both ends of perspective.
Among the smaller group, Elizabeth Fox’s small works bear an oddly cinematic quality both in hue and composition. The hint of a deeper story is strong.
Chattanooga artist Hollie Chastain’s collage works implement vintage elements that give them a familiar feel, as if culled from an old dream that repeats itself in disparate elements woven together.
Birmingham artist Melinda Matthews’ petite pottery is entrancing. Thrown on a wheel using a toothpick as the chief tool, they’ve been fired and in some cases painted with a delicacy that seem nearly impossible sans a jeweler’s eyepiece.
Through a pair of glass doors you transition from micro to mega. Blake Boyd’s massive Darth Vader portrait was a hit, what with Star Wars fever ramping up among the general population.
Scattered around the room were even more outsized sculptures from Paul Kittelson. Cigarettes the size of tree trunks, a beach-ball-sized olive skewered and festooned for an enormous martini. There’s even a pair of colossal vinyl and metal lawn chairs that unavoidably transport viewers in childhood’s perspective.
Things get even bigger upstairs, where the entire second floor is bracketed by dinosaurs. At the east wall towers a life-size mural — a painting on buttressed wood — of a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex. Scattered around him are amused and self-absorbed contemporary citizens, even a baby, lost in the need to snap selfies just yards away from history’s most dangerous predator.
Artifice watched as attendees filtered into the exhibit hall, then transgressed traditional museum etiquette by posing for their own selfies before the exhibit. Was there a deeper point unheeded? Was it just irony in action?
On a wall are photos of artist John Cerney’s previous works, outdoor installations of similar free-standing murals featuring things like dinosaurs fleeing a giant baby. His sense of humor is refreshing.
Another Cerney erected in Roswell, New Mexico, has a flying saucer and an alien family getting the welcome wagon treatment from a local farmer and his baked-pie-bearing wife. His statement tells of how the youngest member of the alien family was stolen from the site and his imagined headline “Alien baby abducted.”
On the second floor’s west wall in an adjoining gallery hall is the other “terrible lizard,” a painting by Robert Arthur Goodnough. Entitled “Dinosaur (Big Shapes).” The 1968 abstract is easily the most sizable painting in the room and likely the boldest.
The exhibit it occupies — “American Art: 1945 to present” — is vast, with more than 100 works in that hall and the entrance corridor alone. It runs a lengthy gamut in medium, style and prestige as an adequate reflection of the explosion of abstract, pop and surreal work that marked the last 70 years.
The show is so sizable it is hard to contain those deserving of mention in the space allowed this column. What leapt to mind quickest are Arthur Okamura’s 1961 oil painting “Eternals,” Robert Indiana’s 1975 silkscreen “Liberty,” Robert Rauschenberg’s 1973 silkscreen “Support,” a lithograph of Christo’s 1978 work “Storefront,” Romare Bearden’s 1979 lithograph “Girl in the Garden” and an undated, untitled black-and-white photographic abstract by Jay Hoops.
Other works will strike chords with locals. There’s “Light Years Away,” a 1983 painting by Kenny Scharf, whose work adorns the exterior of another downtown exhibit space. Richard Frank Jr.’s “If You Want Home Cooking … Stay Home” is essentially a 1985 black-and-white photograph of the Dauphin Street entrance to Wintzell’s Oyster House. Mobile photographer Russell Goodloe has a 2000 monochromatic untitled silver gelatin print on paper, too.
Regretfully, the clamor of opening night crowd detracted from the effect of two exhibits. Native Mobilian Raine Bedsole’s “You Are the River” is a near-ethereal flotilla elevated above a hallway. Contemplation of perspective from flowing water beneath the boats was difficult considering a crowd of chatting attendees blocked our entrance for closer examination.
Rendered most moot by the bustle was Hiroshi Sueyoshi’s installation “Rock Garden.” Though its aesthetics were compelling, the interpretation of a Zen rock garden was impossible to fully utilize, as it sat in the hub of the second floor and was constantly filled with attendees. Nothing against the convivial patrons, but the installation’s power would be best understood at a more placid time.
The size-based group show and Cerney exhibit both run through Feb. 14. Sueyoshi’s work runs through May 16. Bedsole’s exhibit is in place for a year.
The American Art show is drawn from the museum’s collection. No end date was found on its website.
Don’t stop at one visit. The scale of quality and breadth is ideal for repeated indulgence.