Located on 6th Street in downtown Racine, the Racine Arts Council (RAC) is a small professional gallery that isn’t focused on sales, but rather features edgy contemporary art by local artists. RAC’s current show,“Sin: 7 Deadly +: New Work by Gary Wolfe and Jonny Naugahyde,” is particularly good.
With the seven deadly sins as it’s focus, references to the human body and the weaknesses of the flesh are everywhere in this show. Gary Wolfe’s sculptural furniture—each piece is devoted to a specific cardinal sin—takes the show. Envy is a strange shelving unit that stands upright, with the help of a pair of rickety crutches, like a headless figure. For Wolfe, “envy” seems to a broken man, so empty inside that he can never feel full or whole.
Gluttony is a slim vertical cabinet encased in an enormous blob of dirty yellow beeswax standing awkwardly on three thick wooden legs. Anger is an uninviting chair painted in putrid green; it’s rigid seat angled in such a way that it is impossible to sit comfortably on.
Greed is represented by a hoe with a long, scorched tree branch for a handle. On one end of this implement is the thin metal blade that makes it a hoe. On the other end there is a box containing chunks of coal and a disgusting glue-like substance. What does this mean? Wolfe’s hoe is a gardening tool that does not cultivate, rather it consumes and ruins everything that it tills. To be sure these constructions are more sculpture than furniture, but more than anything they are reminiscent of medieval instruments of torture. Each is designed to fit or to be used by the human body, but unlike furniture which pleases the eye and comforts the body, Wolfe’s sculptures look like dungeon torture racks, guillotines or electric chairs and suggest the idea of the body in pain.
Johnny Naugahyde’s collages of paper, fabric, and found objects make a nice contemporary counterpoint to Wolfe’s medievalisms. Naugahyde’s focus is the sin of lust, represented in his work by playboy bunny logos, references to one-night stands, massage therapy, and dating trophies. The idea of ”woman as the object of the male gaze” comes across in the artist’s frequent use of the target icon. I particularly like the way that Naugahyde weaves references to cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity throughout his installations with pictures of astronauts, soldiers, and the repeated image of disney’s little princess. ”Sin: 7 Deadly +” is not to be missed. It comes down August 7th.