I stopped in sort of spontaneously at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts Fall BA+BFA exhibition which opened on Saturday. It was a relatively small show, being fall, but the variation of work was nonetheless pretty wide. There were examples of ceramics, photography, painting, installation, video, and textiles. The one that immediately and most thoroughly captured my imagination was Sarah Westphalen’s Georgie, 2014, which combined a background in printmaking, sculpture, and fibers. The bold hues and the very in-vogue print background that creates a stage for the 3D part of the work, dominated the room. The lighting had a little to do with it — how nice is that horned shadow?
Westphalen combines her modeling, fiber and printing skills to excellent effect. The wallpaper-like background is riveted at the edges like an upholstered leather chair, reminiscent of fine sitting rooms, studies, or libraries where hunting trophies would go on prominent home display. That it is a steer and not a stag, or something yet more exotic, suggests only one dichotomy at work here: that of ‘high’ and ‘low’. The steer, a common sort of beast, is not typically hunted and displayed prominently for its prized rarity. This reflects the way that Westphalen elevates the fiber arts and textiles, typically associated with craft or fashion, by incorporating them into the context of fine art.
The modeling of the beast’s head is wonderful, and it’s a treat to be able to see through the thin fabric to its support skeleton. The horns are fabulous. And it is, overall, one fabulous steer. It is sturdy yet delicate, powerful yet gentle. I love the feminine associations of the needlework and the pastel colors paired with the masculine associations of taxidermy and therefore the hunt, and the animal itself as a massive, dominating creature. It is no less imposing in pink.
The exhibition at UWM reopens on 21 January and runs through 1 February.