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What lies beneath: Two new exhibitions explore the intersections of beauty and the grotesque

Sylvia Ortiz, "Kissy Fishy Face #1," acrylic, ink on canvas.
Rogue Buddha Gallery
Sylvia Ortiz, “Kissy Fishy Face #1,” acrylic, ink on canvas.

The grotesque has long haunted human imagination — exaggerated images of aberration and disfigurement give form to the entanglements of beauty and horror, to mysteries known and imagined that lurk just beneath the civilized, well-ordered veneer of culture. In the sacred grottoes of myth, ritual and legend there have always been such beasties; they’ve fueled our fever dreams, flights of fancy, and our childhood terrors.

Two Twin Cities exhibitions offer explorations of this well-trod, if uneasy, terrain: “The Beautifully Grotesque: The Artwork of Sylvia Ortiz” at Rogue Buddha Gallery and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ new show, “We Believe in Some Thing: Roxanne Jackson.”

Sylvia Ortiz is particularly concerned with the shackles of traditional standards of female beauty. Her figures are exaggerated, candy-colored subversions of the conventional womanly ideal: In one, a come-hither pout turns obscenely fishy; in another, an elaborately dolled-up face sits atop a knobby, disjointed collection of incomplete limbs. The women depicted alternately consume and are consumed by their various assets; they’re modern-day sirens, at once compelling and repulsive. Ortiz’s exaggerations and disfigurements of the female form provide graphic depiction of women at odds with both their own expectations and those of the surrounding culture. The work is unnerving, to be sure; but potent in its feminist challenge, all the same. (You can see a sampling of work in the show online here.)

Roxanne Jackson, "White Diamond," ceramic, glaze, flock, platinum gold luster, 2009.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Roxanne Jackson, “White Diamond,” ceramic, glaze, flock, platinum gold luster, 2009.

Roxanne Jackson’s work takes aim at more cosmic concerns; and, like Ortiz, Jackson’s work is aggressively disconcerting. The Minneapolis artist’s new installation, “We Believe in Some Thing,” features a series of macabre tableaux, conflating and twisting the roles predator and prey, eater and eaten, vitality and death. She’s created an otherworldly bestiary, a trophy room of sorts with painstaking sculptural representations — many rendered in flocked ceramic, with uncannily lifelike detail — some humanoid in form, some vaguely mammalian, still others almost recognizable. Hers are intentional abominations, aiming to lay bare the grand (often grisly) dualities which undergird our perceptions of reality — light and dark, fecundity and death, violence and repose — but which are too terrible to openly acknowledge. It looks to be a stunning, if powerfully disquieting, exhibition of work. (You can see a sampling of these pieces on her website.)

“The Beautifully Grotesque: The Artwork of Sylvia Ortiz” will be on view at the Rogue Buddha Gallery in Minneapolis through Sept. 12.

“We Believe in Some Thing: Roxanne Jackson” will open in the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program Galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Thursday evening with a free reception from 7 to 9 p.m.; the show will be on view through Nov. 1.

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