FUNNY AND UNSETTLING Jenne’s Tenderfoot.
The RISD Museum (224 Benefit Street, Providence), offers work by more than 175 staffers in its "RISD Biennial Faculty Exhibition 2009" (through March 15). It's a giant art buffet, the sort of exhibit designed for sampling.
There are two stars of the show. One is Liz Collins's slinky, knit Sock Monkey Suit. In traditional sock monkey dolls, the red heels of the socks become the monkey's lips and butt. Collins's full-body suit uses the motif at the elbows, knees, and breasts. The result is a combustive mix of child's toy and sex fetish, which Collins plays up by displaying it on a curvy lady mannequin.
The other standout is George Jenne's Tenderfoot, a life-sized sculpture of a naughty child in a Boy Scout uniform. It wears a black furry mask with black pipe horns that suggests a buffalo. A glistening tongue sticks out of a mouth hole and grunting noises emanate from inside. The child's knees and elbows have been skinned bloody. Merit badges feature images of a swastika, middle finger, cigarette, butthole, testicles, a head vomiting. Behind its back, the child holds a wooden fraternity-type paddle saying "be irreverent." And so on. Jenne's craftsmanship is dead-on, though the subject is something of a one-liner. But the effect is both funny and unsettling.
Other highlights include Mary Jane Begin's watercolor and pastel Willow Buds, When Toady Met Ratty, a lush dreamy storybook painting of what looks to be a mole and rat (or perhaps mouse) in a rowboat heading toward a toad standing on a dock upstream. Leslie Hirst's quit-style painting Four: Square features (apparently real) faded four-leaf clovers laid atop a painted geometric pattern and then sealed in with a shiny bath of clear resin Fred Tomaselli-style.
Agnieszka Woznicka presents Birdy, a stop-motion animated film, plus one of its puppets and sets. It's a brief yarn about a flightless bird that collects feathers to make itself working wings. The story is poetic, if somewhat slight, but Woznicka wows with her artistry.
Dianne Hoffman's Tricket is a lyrical abstract painting resembling a tangle of blue (with strokes of other colors) tree limbs against a black background. Dean Robinson's small, spare bamboo Snappytable folds flat, like a sort of suitcase, or elegantly opens out to become a little four-legged table.
Still, the overall impression of the show is: Is that all there is? The workmanship is consistently strong, but the work doesn't say much. The school's annual master of fine arts thesis exhibition could give this show a run for its money.
Sadie Laska and Denise Kupferschmidt seem to be on to something, but still figuring that something out in their show "Coco Loco" at Stairwell Gallery (504 Broadway, Providence, through March 8).
Laska's Castle Greyskull (the title references the good guys' skull-faced castle from the 1980s He-Man toys and cartoons) is a punky, mucky abstract painting. A tempest of lines and flat swatches of color swirls around a skull stuck to what could be a tree stump. In most of her works, glimpses of imagery bubble up from beneath the abstraction. In an untitled painting, women's faces seem to peer through a thicket. In Two Boots, a pair of lady legs at the bottom of the painting could be the Wicked Witch of the East squashed under Laska's abstract cyclone.