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The Elliott Hundley exhibition makes for very compelling looking where many bits of dollar-store materials and found objects mix and coalesce with photographs of family and friends of the artist playing the roles of characters from the Euripides play The Bacchae. The central claim for the works in the show as noted in the exhibition catalogue essay by the Chief Curator of Exhibitions at the Wexner Center, Christopher Bedford, is that the Euripides play is the classical source that the artist “inflects with highly personal content as a way to insert himself into a broader socio-political context.” Socio-political context is contrasted with a Jackson Pollock-like desire to work from a subjective source within that according to Bedford’s essay is “fraught and contested” and “all but untenable today.” Pollack remains an apt comparison for Hundley’s works in the way that the collaged photographs, sequins, pins, tiny saucers, fish bowls and many other glued, lashed and otherwise adhered materials make a visual all-overness in the three major paintings in the show and in the eight free standing sculptures.
The six-panel bulletin board painting, the Lightning’s Bride is the standout painting of the show that coherently interprets the Greek source with texts from The Bacchae that are collaged ransom note style on to the surface of the painting along with and on top of large-scale photographs of a friend playing the role of Semele as the character who simultaneously gives birth and is murdered. The second panel of the temporal sequence of the painting shows the doomed character in full agony while the other five panels show the same character as engaged with either bad acting or just plain camping it up with the resulting look of an advertisement for make-up or hair color products. It is at this point that the viewer has to decide how to take Hundley’s work – to accept or reject the conceit of the works as interpretations of the source material, The Bacchae.
Once skepticism sets in, looking at works such as the trio of sculptures named for three sisters, Agave, Ino and Autonoe strongly suggests an involvement in floral design. In the play the sisters, while under the spell of Dionysus, dance and carry thyrsus made of fennel and pinecones; in Thrysus for Agave there is a wreath-like arrangement that hovers above eye level made of delicate materials strung together and bound with string and wire lashings suggesting the type of extravagant floral sprays found in funeral or memorial settings or even the endowed floral displays in the lobby of some art museums. The drama enacted in the painting eyes that run like leaping fire becomes a meditation on dress design showing successions of fastidiously applied sequins in swirling patterns that make up the garment worn by the character depicted in the large-scale temporally sequenced photographs. Even with skepticism about the work in Hundley’s show as translation, enactment or representation of the play The Bacchae, the paintings and sculptures are captivating to look at, an experience something like as Bedford says, “reading with total absorption.” For the skeptical reader, floral and dress design and an overall feeling of a dance party may suffice as socio-political sources under or behind the classical source.
Anne Keener is a graduate student and writer based in Columbus, OH. View more articles by Anne Keener.