The stench came from the rotting corpse — well, it appeared to be a corpse — of a woman who'd been laid out on a metal table like an exhumed murder victim awaiting a coroner's examination. After I left it behind at Heide Hatry's show "Heads and Tales" at Pierre Menard Gallery (10 Arrow Street, Cambridge, through March 17), I kept catching whiffs of it, as if it had insinuated itself into my clothes and hair.
JENNIFER: Hatry's best photos are titillating like a horror flick, but also haunted by substantial questions of mortality.
Hatry, who splits her time between Brooklyn and Boston, is a connoisseur of the viscerally creepy. She organized "Meat After Meat Joy," a group show of art about and made of meat, at Menard last June. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demanded that it be taken down and the gallery "commit to displaying only exhibits that don't support gratuitous animal suffering." The gallery declined.
This show offers that "corpse" (it has since been removed) plus 22 photos from 2007 and '08 that appear to be portraits of women. (The book Heads and Tales, with stories accompanying the images, has been published by Charta.) In fact, Hatry fashions clay models that she covers with pigskin. The lips are raw meat, the eyes are pig eyes; the photographs document the result. Jennifer depicts a pale blonde woman with wide black eyes and a scarred neck. Flies crawl over her lips. One perches on the edge of her right eye. It makes me shiver. (The photo is paired with a rambling, somewhat unnerving short story by Selah Saterstrom about death and freaky dogs.)
The photos' power depends on verisimilitude. In several shots, the anatomy is off, the eyes are in the wrong place, the skin is waxy, the color is wrong, fake. But the best ones look real. They are titillating like a horror flick, but also haunted by substantial questions of mortality.
Denebola shows the face of a blonde woman who's lying among autumn leaves. The eyes are waxy; the skin is translucent. Two flies crawl across the head. She looks dead, a murder victim dumped in the woods — kind of like the dead girl in the 1986 film River's Edge. Which makes us the gang of teens fascinated by the corpse.
Cindy Sherman has covered similar territory in the past couple of years, photographing herself got up as a society lady on the wiser side of middle age. Sherman's subject is beauty and our bodies — in particular, women's bodies — as we age and our bodies betray us. Hatry follows the idea to its end, where we're all rotting meat.
So back to the stinking-body sculpture. The lady wears an auburn wig, black leather coat, blue jeans, sequined boots. The skin of her face has gone brown and moldy white. Frankenstein's-monster-like staples run up her bruised cheeks. The eye sockets are empty holes. The thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. I could barely stand to be in the same room.
Wherever the Japanese-raised, Brooklyn-based artist Misaki Kawai goes, she seems to trail twinkling pixie dust. For her previous Boston show, in 2007, she filled the Institute of Contemporary Art with her exuberant dollhouse space station. In "Kung Fu Forest" at LaMontagne Gallery (555 East Second Street, South Boston, through March 28), she offers a dozen endearing Cute Brut paintings and three sculptures of lumberjacks, birds kissing, people and a dog paddling down a green river, and guys kicking each other in the groin. I can't decide whether my favorite is the one of the two kids walking and holding hands with the bear in the green tank top and shorts or the one of the wall-eyed, gun-toting green Rambo guy in an orange jumpsuit. Kawai adopts a faux idiot-savant style — her characters look like something a second-grader scrawled, done up in bright acid colors on dumb-ass expressionist backgrounds. Her people and critters remind me of Gumby and his pals — blank-eyed, bizarre, stretchy, and wonderful.
In contrast, Dorchester sculptor and conceptual artist Andrew Mowbray turns LaMontagne's back gallery (also through March 28) into an austere white-on-white cell filled with artifacts (that he's made) displayed with museum-style labels.
A couple of photos show him pouring wine onto the sidewalk outside the Museum of Fine Arts, "paying tribute to the objects contained within the museum collections." His re-creation of an iconic, spare Arts and Crafts Morris Chair by Gustav Stickley stands on a lit-from-within pedestal. A couple of lit-up cases on the wall display remarkable re-creations of ancient arrowheads and stone tools.
These and the chair are fashioned from cut, carved, and routered white polyethylene. (Think: synthetic kitchen cutting boards.) Mowbray is a master craftsman, but his content doesn't always live up to his formal chops. His hair-cutting-and-fishing-fly-tying performance inside an Art Nouveau diving bell (that he'd beautifully crafted) at Space Other in 2007 was a mysterious meditation on masculinity, and one of the best local shows of that year. But his focus here on museum culture feels insular and dull.