VIVID CONTRASTS Elson and Younger’s installations.
Though your brain knows better, you can’t help getting the feeling that the moon sitting in the RISD Museum’s Farago Gallery has floated down from space. It has something to do with the convincing texture that Philadelphia sculptor Tristin Lowe has fashioned on the white felt surface — chalky-cakey and pocked with craters, like rippling rings on a pond, or wounds.
In fact, Lunacy, as it’s called, is a 12-and-a-half-foot white ball made from 14 sections of felt stitched together (you can see the seams) around an inflated vinyl ball (the better for moving and storage). In Lowe’s exhibit “Under the Influence” at the RISD Museum (224 Benefit Street, Providence, through October 24), it dwarfs us, snugly squeezed into the room. This moon has a purple aura emanating from Visither 1, Lowe’s neon sculpture hung in the air behind the fallen rock. It’s a series of neon tubes shaped something like the outlines of crosses, but all together might suggest a spaceship.
Out in western Massachusetts, at Williams College Museum of Art through August 8, Lowe is also exhibiting Mocha Dick, his 52-foot-long white felt sperm whale pimpled with barnacles. The title comes from a leviathan that hassled ships near Mocha Island in the South Pacific in the 19th century, and is said to have been the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Lowe’s previous sculptures were more screwball comedy — a bed that wet itself; a white felt trash can with a felt 40 in a paper bag on top; a giant blue nude girl with a single cyclops eye; a gargantuan folding canvas chair; a huge pink elephant with a bottle of bourbon. The gigantism was part of the sad sack joke.
His moon can feel like a punch line, too, that teeters on the edge of substantive and slight. But Lunacy and Mocha Dick add stately grandeur and awe. His moon is part-planetarium model, part-super-sized entertainment, part-gag, part-absurd, then melancholy. The moon is beached, marooned, lonely, forlorn.
Lowe, who was born in Massachusetts and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, fits in among a number of artists now aiming sculpture and installation toward the serious, substantial end of spectacle. The style was prominent in RISD’s “Annual Graduate Thesis Exhibition” this year. And you can see it in Providence artists Serena J.V. Elston and Meredith Younger’s installations at AS220’s Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through June 26).
Younger’s contribution is a pair of doll-like ceramic figures, just smaller than life-size, titled I’ve No More to Grieve for You. A girl in a purple dress holds a trowel and kneels on sod. She holds her free hand up to her heart and wears a sad, stunned, but curious look on her face. A boy in a black T-shirt, shorts, and white socks lays on the ground before her. Azaleas sprout from a purple planter like a wound in his chest. A skull mask is set onto his face. A crow with a skull face watches down from a bare, rotting branch, arching out from a metal bracket on the wall. The bird seems as if it is licking its lips.