Judith Bear Isroff Gallery
February 4, 2017 - July 30, 2017
The bodies depicted in Gross Anatomies dissipate, morph and decompose. They may have piecemeal forms, assembled from disparate parts. They openly engage in bodily functions like defecating, giving birth or dying, universal acts essential to human existence that usually take place in private. The creatures’ grotesque bodies may make us laugh or recoil in disgust. They can confuse us, appearing as two opposite-seeming things at the same time, such as cute and creepy or ugly yet beautiful.
The sculptures, drawings, prints and paintings on display in this exhibition feature grotesque representations of the human form. Drawn entirely from an Akron-based private collection, the artworks in Gross Anatomies transgress social norms, amuse, titillate and befuddle us, and in some cases, gross us out.
In today’s parlance, “grotesque” describes things that are hideous or garish, but its dictionary definition is more nuanced: “of or unnatural in shape, appearance or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.” Another meaning, “fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls and foliage,” has its historical root in the term Renaissance-era Italians applied to the imaginary figures featured in the decorative elements of unearthed Roman ruins: grottesca, meaning cave painting. This word evolved into grotesque, which encompasses all things hideous, fantastical and unnatural. Many of the bodies in Gross Anatomies exist in that same borderline category as the ancient Roman figures, comingling flora with male or female forms. These creatures are never fully human, and perhaps part animal, plant or machine.
Due to their in-between, misfit nature, grotesque images have a subversive power that threatens to overturn social conventions. Their strange, and often humorous, forms present opportunities for typically hidden or taboo subjects to surface, and suggest alternate realities where power structures have been toppled. Contemporary artists turn to grotesque themes to address issues related to inequity by creating parallel worlds in which hierarchies are dismantled and the downtrodden gain control. The works on display in Gross Anatomies depict bodies behaving outside accepted conventions of etiquette and science in ways that both disgust and delight.
Gross Anatomies is organized by the Akron Art Museum and supported by funding from the Ohio Arts Council.