Points of View - David Greenwood: Stop Motion
Written by MFA student Aj Cooke, Points of View explores local gallery exhibitions in order to spark an open and accessible exchange of ideas and nurture collective intelligence about the art being created and displayed in our community.
David Greenwood: Stop Motion
Grand Rapids Art Museum
February 12 – May 17, 2015
It is beautiful and cold outside. This observation is inspired by our local Grand Rapids weather forecast of soft snow falling with the bitter chill, and it is also quite fitting that this line came to me as I sat down to write my thoughts on “Stop Motion,” an exhibition highlighting the artwork of KCAD Professor Emeritus David Greenwood.
During the opening reception, Greenwood reflected on his inspiration, his use of symbols and metaphors, and his notion of life as a tragic comedy, an idea that he demonstrates in the titles of some of his pieces in “Stop Motion” as well as the folk art aesthetic of an otherwise depressing arrangement of forms.
Greenwood’s sculptures aim to connect to humanity as a whole by portraying nondescript narratives that can be shared by a vast number of viewers in terms of life experiences we all may possibly understand. In creating visual art that implies an emotional response without stating the inspiration outright, Greenwood’s work can traverse a broad range of concepts that fall under the large umbrella of human emotion, such as loss or pain. Though tackling perhaps more negative concepts of what it means to be human, Greenwood also hopes to provide a twist of jest in the work as well, which is most evident in the pieces that highlight a human form that can appear awkwardly gesturing within the scene as if to keep balance among the chaos.
Several of the pieces in "Stop Motion"
So as I stare out the window drinking in GRAM’s interior warmth and watching the bundled huddled figures move up and down the street, I am reminded of Greenwood’s words as I consider this frigid, yet beautiful night. Another point that stuck from the discussion was the idea of longevity of an artist. In fact, the exhibition’s large-scale wooden sculptures are themselves evidence of Greenwood’s prolific career as a practicing artist. Curiously enough, the sculpture that I found most accessible is one that Greenwood created when he was around the same age I am now.
Of all the pieces on display, “Sudden Demise (Why is Timing Everything?)” has the least in common with the others in the exhibition. The piece is a monster of interest that owns the room with its scale, placement, and ambiguous narrative. Created in 1987, and purposefully left open-ended for the viewer to interpret, “Sudden Demise” deploys a visual trap by displaying both pain and eroticism, and therefore echoes the tension present in all of the other sculptures in “Stop Motion,” which seem to have pleasant yet harmful realities.
Close-up of David Greenwood's "Sudden Demise"
Ron Platt, the chief curator at the GRAM, wrote that Greenwood’s works are “self-contained narratives that intermingle his own ideas and memories with more broadly understood symbols and archetypes,” such as the repeated use of boats, the figure, and self-portraits. Yet “Sudden Demise” has neither identifiable portrait nor vessel reference, which is why I think this sculpture can speak to a wider audience. The emotion of the work is not stuck on specific signifiers, but rather is abstracted enough to represent layers of humanity. The sculpture stretches along the gallery floor, showing an elongated wooden figure horizontally positioned and gesturing in agony, or pleasure (take your pick). The human form has been penetrated twice – once by a large cone that impales yet supports the figure, and again by an arrow to the exposed throat.
Close-up of David Greenwood's "Sudden Demise"
These details bring to mind Bernini’s marble sculpture “St. Terese in Ecstasy,” which also blurs lines between the fleshy stimuli of agony and desire. In Greenwood’s piece, the implied narrative is furthered by the androgynous physicality of the figure, which, with its breasts and phallus, could be both male and female. This allows the viewer to place themselves in the role of the protagonist and consider the circumstances that led to said sudden demise.
Can you see yourself or your life experience in any of Greenwood’s open ended sculptures? Considering life as a tragic comedy, do you think these sculptures are heartbreaking or humorous?
While at the GRAM deliberating Greenwood’s handiwork, make sure you walk (very slowly) through Edward Burtynsky’s “Water” exhibition, which depicts our world’s most vital resource in a tragic and beautiful way.