The Art Center Gallery announces its upcoming exhibition, Imaginary Worlds, bringing together four artists who explore the mechanisms that shape and define our experiences. Through various means of observation and perception, Dara Alter, Siobhan McBride, Susan Meyer and Kristina Paabus re-imagine the physical, transcendental and utopian properties of the world we live in.
Susan Meyer tackles utopian disintegration at Plus Gallery
Michael Paglia Thursday, Nov 8 2012By
Conceptualist Susan Meyer, who teaches art at the University of Denver, is the subject of the provocatively titled Plato's Retreat at Plus Gallery. What makes the title provocative is that it's a reference to a well-known heterosexual swingers' club that existed in New York in the late 1970s and early '80s. That era was marked by history-making levels of sexual promiscuity, a craze that was brought to a screeching halt by AIDS, with the city of New York closing down places like Plato's in reaction to the epidemic. The free-sex utopia of America at that time became a disease-ridden dystopia almost overnight.
Though Meyer makes no overt references to any of this history, her show seems to be concerned with the tendency of utopias to disintegrate into dystopias. When I spoke with her about it, she mentioned that viewers had raised the topic of Arcosanti — the utopian architectural fantasy by Paolo Soleri in Arizona — in reaction to the show's star piece, also titled "Plato's Retreat." Meyer acknowledges that Arcosanti was a source, as is the inspiration she got from a Robert Smithson lecture about a decaying hotel in Mexico.
The piece is an installation on a set of risers that looks like a simultaneously ancient and futuristic miniature city. Meyer made it by using digitized laser cutters to partly cut out shaped fragments that she stacked to form the "city." She filled the sides of the cardboard to provide a flat surface, then coated the whole thing with resinous concrete filler, which makes the construction look a little like stone. She also accented it with actual live plants in soil and small acrylic squares evoking windows.
Related, at least ideologically, is "Shelter Rock," a stacked acrylic-sheet form in the shape of a rock, with a room complete with tiny people inserted into a notch in the side. Meyer lays out a series of works that anticipate "Shelter Rock," including a video of an actual rock, a drawing of it, and a three-dimensional model created through transmedia.
Meyer's Plato's Retreat runs through November 24 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 720-394-8484, www.plusgallery.com.
Susan Meyer at Plus+Gallery, Denver. “Plato’s Retreat”
Denver artist Susan Meyer’s exhibit at Plus Gallery is best viewed within a context. Exploring territories as diverse and complex as architecture, philosophy, human sexuality, and psychology, it is her first solo in Denver in a few years, and it’s stunning.
The younger members of the art crowd won’t remember this historical fact (but you can be sure they will google it): Plato’s Retreat was an infamous swingers club in New York City in the pre-AIDS 1970s. Anonymous sex was the sole purpose of the club, which for all its libertine intent, forbade alcohol, and membership to gay men. Should that bit of background color our view of Meyer’s show? We’ll see…
Meyer’s exhibition combines both sculptural and media elements, but the piece that I want to focus on is a large construction entitled Plato’s Retreat, an architectural model, that suggests a structure of epic proportions. Layer upon layer of hexagonal cells evoke a horizontal hive, filled with hundreds of rooms. Scale is shown through dozens of small half-inch high toy male and female figures, usually naked. The “rooms” are made from colored plexiglas, which Meyer has used in all of her previous and beautifully crafted architectural sculptures. Surfaces are made of cardboard and stucco material, and running through the sculpture, potting soil, plants, wiring, and LED lights. Edges seem broken, crumbling, and sagging. The sculpture has the feeling of an obsessively-constructed model for a fantasy futuristic city, except a 1970s vision of the future. I am reminded of visionary architect Paolo Soleri’s drawings and plans for future cities, all modernist concrete and glass mega-structures. In this show, one can’t escape the sense of nostalgia for a past era’s view of the 21st century. Even the font chosen for Meyer’s show publicity has a 1970s feel. The difference is, this city is in decline.
Putting all these elements together: formal, historical, architectural, and cultural, some psychological and emotional meanings emerge. In dream imagery, buildings with many rooms symbolize the interior of the mind, and I am convinced Meyer is attempting to portray a psychological landscape, not unlike Piranesi’s fantastical drawings of imaginary buildings, metaphors for psychological states. The rooms and cells and spaces of Meyer’s sculpture are dauntingly complex, like a mind obsessed with human relations, secret sensuality, personal fears, and mad visions. Each room a thought, or a point in time; some are illuminated by small lights, others dark and hidden.
On another level entirely, one can’t dismiss the nominal reference to Plato, and his metaphysics of elevated thought, of a disregard for the senses or for finding truth in the material world. We are being asked by the artist to consider higher meanings in her work, to look beyond the surface. Many of Meyer’s cleanly-constructed colored plexiglas sculptures suggest a utopian future world; this structure is the dystopian, after-the-party decaying ruin.
What we are faced with in Meyer’s work is a mash-up of incongruous elements and ideas, complex and seemingly contradictory: a reference to a sex club and sexual freedom, platonic ideals, imaginary cities, psychological states, all included metaphorically in a building structure that appears to be eroding back into nature. Heady stuff, worth contemplating, and causing us to be mindful of our own society, and art’s high purpose.
thru November 24, 2012