Body Norms

In March, I got a chance to visit the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York. I mostly went to visit Phillip Stearns' installation A Chandelier For One of Many Possible Ends but was fortunate enough to be shown around by Tony Bannon and Heather Gring, which was a real treat. Heather showed me around an exhibit called “Body Norms”, which they were just finishing putting together before it opened. It was a selection of pieces from the Spong Collection, a large and relatively recent donation. There were some excellent pieces, and it was very educational to get to talk to Heather about what she was looking for in selecting pieces, how the layout was done, and so on. Here are a few of the pieces that stood out to me.

In February, I’d been playing around a lot on my own with geometric forms, in particular variations and derivations of the ancient Greeks methods for constructing regular polygons with just a strait-edge and a compass. This composition resonated with that for me, in particular suggesting some ideas for body-sized work with it. I’m still working out how to approach that.

A few of the pieces in the exhibit, like these two, were of a distinctly “fantastical” nature. They are “bodies”, clearly, but not precisely what we usually associate with that word. These two were one of the smallest and one of the largest pieces in the room. The minotaur, in particular, was a very strong presence, despite its seated posture on a corner of the main presentation pedestal. At first I thought the creature with the antlers looked playful, but the face doesn’t match that. There is some real distress going on here; I think she’s falling.

Many of the pieces were of more readily recognizable bodies, but still played around with the “norms” we place on such things. The woman in that center shot, for example, doesn’t care what you think of her; she’s dancing anyway. I’m quite happy with the first shot in this set, in particular: the apparent agony of the dismembered man on the wall, behind the de-emphasized image of probably the most conventionally beautiful representation in the room.

If you’re with a reasonable drive from Buffalo, I’d suggest checking out what’s current at Burchfield Penney and stopping by. Buffalo’s a neat city to spend a day in, too. At the time of this writing, this exhibit is still going on. You might also be interested in the writeup I did on the chandelier.