Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hard Truths - The Art of Thornton Dial

Lost Cows, 2000-2001
Cow skeletons, steel, golf bag, golf ball, mirrors, enamel and Splash Zone compound

We headed to City Park on a bright and pleasant Saturday morning while in New Orleans for a few days. We took one of the branches of the Canal St. Streetcar (the red cars) to City Park. From where the street car ends (and turns around) in the park, it is just a few minutes’ walk to the New Orleans Museum of Art or NOMA. Featured at the museum when we visited was an exhibition called Hard Truths, The Art of Thornton Dial (through May 20, 2012). In the exhibition, over 40 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures are featured. Thornton Dial is an American artist from Alabama whose work came to prominence in the late 1980s. From the NOMA site: “Born in poverty in Alabama, Dial has lived his entire life in the American South, and his art, informed by decades of struggle as a black working class man, offers compelling commentary on our most pervasive social and political challenges.”

The social and political “challenges” that Dial tackles are transformed into his found-object sculptures as fantastical, sometimes hard to look at, twisting and chaotic forms. The sculptures are assemblages of cast-away objects that address issues such as global conflict, African American history, and homelessness. The pieces have evocative titles like Crosses to Bear (Armageddon) 2001-2004 and Lost Cows 2000-2001 - both shown here, and The Beginning of Life in the Yellow Jungle 2003 - featured on the exhibition brochure and shown here as well. The information cards accompanying each piece are hints on how to “read” the piece. Therein lies a minor misstep of the exhibition: the hints (bullet-pointed nonetheless) are not really helpful to enjoying the piece. Rather, the hints seem forced and bit pedantic and block the viewer’s interpretation of the piece. Solution for the viewer: don’t read the explanations. Instead, let the pieces speak the “hard truths” that Dial intended them to convey.

Hard Truths Brochure

Crosses to Bear (Armageddon), 2001-2004
Steel, wire, tin, tire scraps, caret, wood, clothing, plaster hand, enamel, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound

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