Surrealism gets a bizarre, bugged-out makeover in Fun House, a juried art exhibition on view at Barrett Art Center (BAC) in Poughkeepsie, New York. The multitude of artworks on display range from mildly dreamlike concoctions to full-on nightmarish contortions, some recalling the works of surrealist masters like Dalí and Magritte and others thoroughly unique in their defiance of reality’s limitations.
The revitalization of surrealism for the exhibition originated from “the idea of an art circus, and thinking about the term in all of its multiple historical connotations,” tells Joanna Frang, Barrett Art Center’s executive director. “The idea of Fun House in particular emerged after we discovered a painting by David Lax in BAC’s art storage titled 1970. It was that image that inspired us to locate the focus of the exhibition on the Fun House as a site for nontraditional creative display.” Although Lax’s painting was not part of the juried competition, his painting that inspired the exhibition was an honorary inclusion in the show.
From the near 300 submission received, 81 artworks by 51 different artists were selected by curator and juror Eve Biddle for the Fun House show. Among the photography, sculpture, illustration, and painting included, three were elected as the top works of the exhibition, alongside two-runner-up works.
Trish Igo's Trypophobic Treasure took third place, a sculpture riffing on the rare ‘fear of many small holes and circles.’ The all black clay sculpture looks like a fruit of some sort, except for the dozens of creepy, gaping eyelids and eyelashes on the piece’s surface. A distorted and deformed portrait took second place in the competition.
In second place is John Baker’s Born and Raised in Chicago, an elegant painting of a businessman in front of a dystopic urban landscape, offset by an angular cut through his face which transforms his head into multiple, unrecognizable others.
The overall winner of Fun House’s juried competition is surprisingly a familial photograph, but the setting of Ileana Doble Hernandez's Pollito Chicken is anything but traditional. Within a living room in utter chaos, filled with fallen books and tilted memorabilia, a woman in a smiling pig mask enjoys an appetizer and some wine, but seems focused on what is perhaps the main course, an infant inside of a tinfoil takeout plate. The baby’s fate is unclear, but the woman’s transfixed gaze is profoundly unsettling.
Despite the eccentricity of the works on display, the juried nature of the exhibition is perhaps more unconventional than the art itself. To classify one artwork as better than another has been a resolute taboo throughout recent art history, making it an arguably tenuous choice. But if art world oligarchs of the world can seemingly determine art worth at will, is it really unthinkable to allow a gallery and a curator to decide the merit of the artworks within their own show?
Fun House will be on view at Barrett Art Center until September 3rd in Poughkeepsie, New York.