Friday, September 6, 2013

Natural History of the Surreal

Otto Younger at Handforth Gallery
Table of Desire
Otto Younger’s sculptures in the Handforth Gallery spill out of the gallery space to inhabit sections of the entire gallery, first and second floor, and even the windows above the main entrance. They are big, bold, hysterically funny and insightfully satirical. What Youngers has created is a parody of museum diorama with fantasy creatures — dragons and dinosaur-like skeletons, many of them wearing boxing gloves and Dutch-style wooden shoes.

Younger’s sculptures are all made from reclaimed wood. Much of it is left in a natural finish and is roughly carved, giving the pieces the look of chainsaw sculpture or primitive craft. Many of the pieces are huge, taking up large sections of the library, such as the “The New & Improved Four Horsemen of the apocalypse” on the first floor, which comprises menacing skeleton men riding giant wooden horses. They would be frightening if they were not so funny.

The titles give hints of the whimsical and quirky nature of Younger’s art. For example, such pieces as “U.S.S. Miss Fitz,” “Moose Lodge Bible,” “Confusion Daze” and “Future, Past Now.”
Incredible Supreme
“Queque" is a roped off area as in a bank or airline ticket window, but the rope is made of wood and what is inside is not people lined up but rather their shoes. Heavy wooden clogs on a checkerboard-patterned floor. Is there an ominous quality to the shoes as in when soldiers use empty boots to stand in for dead comrades? Yes, that is probably intentional, as there are hidden threats or dangers underneath all of his humor.

The checkerboard floor is used again in the display of dragon skeletons in the main gallery space. These floors have a worn look as if they were last painted 20 years ago and have been walked on for decades.

One little piece that I like is “Table of Desire,” a small table on spindly legs upon which sits an open book (wooden) and a hand grenade. On the floor under the table is a single wood clog and a brain perched atop a stump.

Among the most artistic pieces are a series of six wall hanging pieces with post-pop surrealistic images drawn and assembled with images that remind me of both Peter Saul and Red Grooms. There are no labels identifying media, but they appear to be wood burned etchings and paint.

There is much to see in Younger’s work. You could easily spend a whole day just scoping out all the little surprises and details and wondering about the many visual puns and symbols. And if you can spend that much time with it, you will certainly be rewarded for your effort.

[Handforth Gallery at Tacoma Public Library, Natural History of the Surreal, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays-Saturday, through Oct. 5, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S, Tacoma]

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