Fluent in confluences

Rona Pondick marries disparate sculptures into one image. Rona Pondick marries disparate sculptures into one image.
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / September 23, 2009

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Monkey, saint, and artist fantastically come together in one of several photographic images that sculptor Rona Pondick has up at Howard Yezerski Gallery. In it, she joins the heads of two sculptures: her own “Monkey With Hair’’ and a 14th-century French “Head of an Apostle or Saint’’ limestone piece from the Worcester Art Museum collection.

Pondick has a separate exhibit at the Worcester museum, “The Metamorphosis of an Object,’’ up through Oct. 11, in which she gathers her own figurative sculptures with those from the museum’s collection, spanning cultures and historic eras. Here, she deepens the theme by marrying disparate sculptures into one image. The WAM show is like a cocktail party, with a compelling array of types hobnobbing together. The Yezerski show is more like a hall of mirrors: The figures gaze directly out at us, like reflections.

“Monkey With Hair,’’ like most of Pondick’s sculptures, is a hybrid of human and animal, with the human parts coming from life casts of the artist herself. This is her face, in gleaming stainless steel, with eyes closed and a downturned mouth, as if in pain. Wild gray-black monkey hair flies from the head. The other half of the photograph shows a rough, gray French head, bearded and placid, with frank, open eyes.

Each of the photos (all offset lithograph prints) presents a Jekyll/Hyde split, matching up half a Pondick piece with half a work from the WAM collection. The pairings have formal connections. Pondick’s “Dog,’’ in yellow stainless steel with a human head and arms, shares the angular muscularity and gold tones of the 15th- or 16th-century bronze Thai Buddha, seated in a lotus position, with which it has been conjoined.

The formal confluences that electrify the WAM exhibit anticipate these images, but here Pondick’s presentation, actively merging the historic art with the contemporary, charges this work with an unnerving psychological current. In her sculptures - including, in this show, “Untitled Animal,’’ which appends a human leg and hand to a reclining, earless feline creature - the melding of human and animal compels us to imagine our own animal natures. The merging of a saint’s head with Pondick’s monkey, which is also a self-portrait, prompts even more delicious connective nuances. The suffering woman/monkey and the serene saint become aspects of a single being, shifting from the realm of the symbolic into the juicier realm of what it’s really like to be human.

Body of work
Harriet Casdin-Silver was a maverick. The artist, who died last year, specialized in making holograms of nudes, including documenting her own aging body. “To Van Eyck and Bosch,’’ her 1994 installation of 10 holograms in an 8-foot-tall, three-panel altarpiece, on view at Gallery NAGA, testifies to her daring, her artistry, and her raucous wit.

It references Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s “Ghent Altarpiece’’ (1432), with Adam and Eve at either end. Only here, Casdin-Silver swaps out the figures’ midsections, giving Eve a penis and Adam a vagina. They flank a stack of male and female bottoms - that’s the reference to Bosch, whose foreboding and hellish landscapes often featured backsides. So at the spot that altarpieces would devote to the most sacred imagery, Casdin-Silver moons us. It’s a bold, funny, and eerie piece. Holographic portraits inevitably look like people trapped behind glass, calling to mind specimens in formaldehyde.

Keira Kotler’s astonishing color photos hang on the walls beside Casdin-Silver’s piece. Kotler doesn’t say what her subjects are. All the images are luminous monochromes, with light and shadow flitting over them. An orange one, for instance, might be a gleam of light on a traffic cone, but she gets so close and out of focus that all form is gone, giving way to transcendent tone.

Bryan McFarlane’s high-octane abstract paintings, also at NAGA, vibrate with hot colors, masses of concentric circles, and layers upon layers of paint. In “Love for Sale’’ he covers a coral skin with a coat of minty blue, but the coral shows through in color-dabbed half-moon shapes that drift down the canvas like rose petals. “Demonic Gestation’’ centers on a quivering totem of rippling circles, cells ripening to reproduce, against a shuddering yellow ground. The paintings are momentous and feverish, thrusting toward some achievement; what they lack is a quiet counterpoint, a place to breathe.

Playing with perception
Sculptor Timothy Murdoch toys with perception and process, not always effectively, in his show at Northeastern University’s Gallery 360. “Who’s That’’ is a wall installation of mirrors on springs; walk past it, and your reflection fractures. A second section of mirrors vibrates as you pass, churning your reflection. The mirror play is intriguing, but the installation, with heavy springs and naked electronics, is unfortunately clunky.

“Tubes’’ features wooden tubes made of material recycled from previous projects. The two large, dimpled tubes snake through the gallery in an appealing way. Murdoch’s artist’s statement emphasizes his process as the tubes evolve from exhibit to exhibit, but that has only a tenuous conceptual connection - without supporting visual materials - to the viewer’s physical experience of the work. He needs to more effectively tie concept to product.


At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 13. 617-262-0550,




At: Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., through Oct. 3. 617-267-9060,

TIMOTHY MURDOCH: Installations

At: Gallery 360, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave., through Oct. 6. www.north creates/gallery360

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