it? Opdyke’s installation Mixed Messages.
Opdyke: Plan C
Jennifer & Kevin McCoy: The Allure of the
Art Museum, University at Albany, through April 6
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
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.