On Saturday, January 19, darkness descended over LA and the “Conjoined III: The Final Chapter” theme show was unveiled, or rather unleashed, at Copro Gallery. Artist of The Dark, Chet Zar, has once again created a monster. A monster of a show, that is. It’s alive and back for more.
When I found the filled parking lot in the Bergamot Station Arts Complex, I was not surprised to join an anxious line of attendees, all the way down the ramp, waiting to take a peek inside the jammed space. The gallery was transformed into something of a mad scientist’s laboratory teaming with genetic experiments gone awry. The amazing array of sculptures was created by artists and a number of the craftsmen who are Chet’s comrades from the film special effects world.
It was a huge night for Chet- Signing copies of his beautiful, first book, “Black Magick,” showing a few of his distinctive creature paintings, his beloved dog portrait, and a new bronze version of his “Conjoined Heart” sculpture, his documentarian, Mike Correll, was on hand with rolling camera in hand, his stepfather, James Zar, displayed his signature fantasy-themed work, and his brother, Rick Zar, wowed the crowd outside with an awesome demonstration of neon work.
The size of the works is often deceptive when seeing a photo with no size reference because of the unbelievable amount of detail. That’s why seeing the show first hand should be put on your to-do list. True due to the throngs, it was not always easy to get a good vantage point to really appreciate the work, but there is a thrilling energy built into being one of the first to attend an event as unique as this. With a sculpture show, the experience is radically different than your routine show displayed on a wall. It’s much more interactive. The whole and completely realized creations are staring right back at you. The impulse to reach out and touch the work is so tempting, but most of us have been corrected enough times, since we were kids on museum trips, to resist. But, seriously, part of what we miss nowadays in CGI-driven entertainment is not just seeing, but believing that creatures could exist in a room with us. The green screen has improved the image and action, but ruined the suspended disbelief we once had.
Be it Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, Dr. Moreau’s island of hybrid children, Dr. Tyrell and his replicants, the romanticized notion of playing creator captivates us. Now with organ transplants, genetic testing, robotic technology and artificial intelligence; we are on the cusp of what were before unthinkable advancements that will radically change our world. Artisans too now have a range of new resources and materials with which they make their creations be more life-like. The time, energy, and commitment that went to creating a collection of work like this is staggering and humbling.
Last year, Kevin Kirkpatrick transformed the MTV cartoon characters “Beavis and Butthead” into hugely popular and eerily human-like sculptures. This time around, he found another off-kilter subject in Johnny Depp’s character portrayal of “Raoul”. That was Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson’s altar ego from the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Just like the poster art for the film, you see the character from the perspective of a warped, drug-altered reality that Thompson often times worked in. The neck of the figure is ridiculously elongated, the face is distorted, but at the same time, the skin, teeth and hair are realistically fashioned. It’s wild to examine.
The centerpiece of the show is Kazu Tsuji’s “Lincoln,” complete with untrimmed ear hair. He was a larger-than-life historical figure, so it only makes sense that the 3-dimensional sculpture be larger than life. Lincoln has been getting a lot of press the past few years in film with Spielberg’s Oscar contender and as a imagined vampire hunter, he’s been a favorite subject of Mark Ryden’s work, and there is talk that the penny with his image may be discontinued. Inspecting this president up this close was something I don’t think anybody has really asked for, but now that it’s a reality, it’s fascinating to take in warts and all. I half-expected the eyes to shift, the mouth to open and for an art patron to lose a hand after touching his beard.
Other favorite highlights included: -Matthew Levin’s figures strike extreme poses, like contortionist dancers, all the while being mired in a taffy-like tangle of flesh. -Mark Setrakian’s “Cascade,” a writhing, motorized serpentine-like sculpture that was suspended from the ceiling. -Sarina Brewer’s 2 headed faux-taxidermy “Goat” and “Rat” prove that 2 heads are better than one, and cuter too. -Doug Thielscher’s “Ninth Circle” bronze sculpture featuring 2 metallic heads fused together in an unsettling, bite/kiss. -Thomas Kuebler’s dark humored "Ed Geinball Machine" sculpture was part human taxidermy and part gumball machine.
The question does beg to be asked, “Where would you put a lot of this work?” If you’re like me, you don’t have a bunch of empty pedestals and shelves with recessed spotlights ready and waiting. Unlike with wall art, you feel the need to not just showcase it, but protect it from animals, kids and klutzy people. It’s probably why sculpture shows like this are such a rare treat. Our living spaces are often cozier than we’d like. If we all lived in spacious lofts with open room plans or stately homes with grand entrances, it would be far easier to entertain the idea of bringing home these wondrous works. Perhaps someday. Until then, I will have to resist the giant “Lincoln” head and freak out my houseguests some other way. "Conjoined III: The Final Chapter” will be on view until February 9th at Copro Gallery.
Words by Rick Galiher