Visual Art

Latencies

Big Car and Galerie Penumbra

Murphy Art Center

Through Sept. 7

If you've seen as many art exhibitions on a regular basis as I have over the years, you can become both jaded and numbed. And then something comes along and it's fresh enough or strange enough to grab you by the collar. Latencies, a collaborative exhibition on view at Big Car Gallery and Galerie Penumbra, is both: It's fresh, it's strange and it's over-stimulating, in a good way. Untitled collage by Anna Rae Landsman showing now in the 'Latencies' show at Big Car Gallery.

In the spirit of its founding intentions, Big Car has teemed up with Galerie Penumbra - both housed in the Murphy Art Center in Fountain Square - to present this collaborative art show as an experimental effort, thematically connected, in this case, by the medium of collage as well as the concept Latencies.

A mind-boggling list of artists both known and not-so-known comprise the list of participants (visit the respective Web sites for a complete roster). Upstairs in Big Car, the exhibition itself is a collage of collages pasted and tacked and nailed to the wall or protruding from it in all manner of media, from cellophane to vinyl floppy disk. Never mind that the art labels are hand-written on old beauty salon receipts - and that it's often hard to tell which piece of art belongs to which label, and whether the name on the label belongs to the artist or the artwork. It's less about the who and more about the what and the how. While some artists played up the "Latencies" theme - offering sexually suggestive imagery or text to speak to that most obvious of latencies - others simply had a blast with the medium, or media, as it were.

Downstairs in Galerie Penumbra, it's as if the creative storm upstairs has settled into a steady but delightful breeze. The artwork is still collage (mostly), it's still edgy and idiosyncratic - and certainly it's more easily digestible. From Penumbra co-owner (with his wife, Cheryl Mattingly) David Mattingly's quirky collages composed of magazine cut-outs ("Reincarnation" is one of my favorites) to Anna Rae Lansford's cartoonish drawings and paintings on the backs of grocery sacks, this is still unconventional and therefore limit-expanding stuff; and even if all of it isn't polished, or even beautiful, it's proof that creative thoughtfulness, artistically trained or not, is alive and well.

Collage in and of itself offers unique creative challenges. Most of us remember "the magazine collage" as the capstone art project in grade school - me, I remember it far too well. Charged with expressing a particular emotion by way of magazine pictures pasted to a shoebox, I conceived "Happiness" with a full-page image of a woman in a silky pink gown striding gleefully along a beach. Only after the glue had dried did I realize it was an ad for Stay-Free maxipads. An unforgettable moment indeed.

The collages in Big Car are like this, too - only there's nothing to be embarrassed about. They're honest, fun and quirky - and maybe a little irreverent, and maybe a little surreal - but it's all part of an uninhibited celebration of the art of play. I could suggest deeper social and psychological undercurrents that the art dredges up - and certainly collage is the perfect metaphor for such explorations - but it's better that I leave those discoveries up to you. So by all means, check it out for yourself. It's worth the trip - in both senses of the word.

Latencies is on view at Galerie Penumbra and Big Car Gallery concurrently through Sept. 7. Both galleries are located at 1043 Virginia Ave. in Fountain Square; Big Car is in Suite 215 and Galerie Penumbra is accessible from the street. Call 508-8043 for more information or visit either gallery's Web site: galeriepenumbra.com or bigcar.org.

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