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Get it? Opdyke’s installation Mixed Messages.

Black Comedy

By Nadine Wasserman

David Opdyke: Plan C

Jennifer & Kevin McCoy: The Allure of the Literal

University Art Museum, University at Albany, through April 6

Serious fun. That’s what the two exhibitions currently at the University Art Museum have in common. On the first floor are five multimedia pieces by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy; and in the entryway, and upstairs, are drawings, an installation, and models by David Opdyke. While the two exhibitions are essentially separate, they complement each other in multiple ways. In addition to sharing an affinity for optical effects, the three artists use materials ordinarily associated with childhood, such as cartoons, miniatures, and paper airplanes, to explore the topics of technology, violence, and consumerism.

Playfulness allows the audience to explore more serious topics. Every Anvil, by the McCoys, is a good example. Framed within a suitcase, this piece is a portable catalogue of cartoon violence and transgression consisting of an archive of DVDs and a DVD player. Each disk contains segments from Looney Tunes edited together and filed into categories such as “every gun,” “every explosion,” “every crashing,” and the always-funny-yet-perpetually-disturbing “every cooking a character.” These all-too-familiar images are reframed in a way that subverts narrative. By doing so, the artists encourage us to reconsider the original.

Another method the McCoys use to create disjuncture and shift perspective is to employ the miniature and the model. The appeal of a tiny replica is not only the wonderment of its accuracy but the fact that it affords the viewer a fleeting sense of omniscience. It is far more palatable to feel like Gulliver than to contemplate one’s in significance in a vast universe. Both the McCoys and Opdyke use miniatures in their work, but they are far from cute and comforting. Instead they are discomfiting and unsettling.

In High Seas and Big Box, the McCoys offer disorienting and dizzying visions of doom. These two kinetic sculptures use filmic special effects that simultaneously expose the visual trickery. Equipped with small video cameras, the viewer is able to see the model and an enlarged projection simultaneously. In High Seas, a static 5-foot model of the Titanic appears as if it is being pitched about in a stormy sea. The effect is accomplished by mounting the tiny camera on a circular wave guide so that on screen it is the boat that appears to move and not the camera. Big Box is a rotating model of easily recognizable storefronts such as Target, Home Depot, and Old Navy. As the familiar fonts and colors whiz by, the viewer begins to register something distracting in the spaces between. It takes a moment to recognize that between the chain stores are apocalyptic wastelands of trash and overgrowth that signify any number of doomsday scenarios, most likely brought about by our own excesses.

Opdyke too uses models, as well as drawings, to consider our cultural excesses. Opdyke’s training as an architectural model maker is apparent in the obsessively detailed sculptures Zenith and Nadir. These works are similar to his drawings in theme. His precise miniature renderings in both two- and three-dimensions capture images of absurd overabundance, as well as decline and decay brought on by overconsumption—and overreaching political power. Fleets of airplanes, mounds of electronics, and intricate networks appear throughout the work. Some drawings, like Holding Pattern, Interchanging, and Achievements, represent a culture rapidly working itself into knots. Others like Progress show a string of houses absurdly replicating beyond the horizon, while a set of three drawings titled Fiduciary Remains depict the $1 bill crumbling like ancient ruins. These works are particularly prescient given the state of our economy and the housing market.

Overall, Opdyke’s work confronts the absurdity of our consumer-driven and militaristic culture. The most dramatic work in the space is his installation Mixed Messages. This piece works particularly well here because it enlivens a space that is usually unusable due to the interruption of the stairway. Consisting of more than 2,000 paper airplanes—each made with a page from an Arabic-English/English- Arabic dictionary—the installation functions as a form of skywriting. At first glance the airplanes appear to be a whimsical air show. But when viewed from multiple angles, various phrases begin to emerge. What ultimately emerges is an indictment of violence and the current war.

Both of these shows present serious subject matter in a whimsical fashion. In light of the recent controversy over the Wafaa Bilal exhibition, it is great to see yet more art that takes us out of our comfort zone.

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