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E-Mail: Kim Wintje
The Portland Phoenix
September 7 - September 14, 2000
Art Reviews           
Election figures
Politics at Davidson and Daughters
by Jenna Russell
the cutting edge with bobbitt and van gogh
"Tin Ears and Feet of Clay," shows through
September 30 at Davidson and Daughters,
148 High Street, Portland, open Tuesday
through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 Just in time for the serious
 start of election season,
 Davidson & Daughters has        
 assembled a two-woman show      
 with lots of substantial and    
 specific political content.     
 Sculptor Kim Wintje names       
 names, and favors major
 domestic players: George and    
 Al, Monica, Janet, and both     
 Bills -- Gates and Clinton.
 The work, in washed-out shades of tin and 
 aluminum, hangs on the walls and from the 
 ceiling.



	          Ceramic storyteller Jane Kaufmann makes softly       
                  colored raku figures that sit on clay skyscraper     
                  bases, each inscribed with the ironic retelling of a 
                  lesson of history. Kaufmann questions popular        
                  notions of greatness and success, and manages        
                  sophisticated social criticism through visual means  
                  that are childlike in their simplicity. It's fitting 
                  that both women live in political-minded New         
           	  Hampshire. 
    
		  
		  Both artists use the human figure, reduced to
	 	  doll-like proportions, and as a result the viewer  
	  	  relates with relative ease to larger-than-life       
            	  characters like Van Gogh and Joan of Arc. In         
         	  Kaufmann's clay pieces, the little people sit like   
                  toy brides-and-grooms on their wedding-cake bases.   
                  Wintje's medium, "sewn metal," sounds like an        
                  oxymoron, but it's an effective, unexpected,         
                  junk-yard method of assemblage, scraps, and squares  
                  of metal punched with holes and stitched with twists 
                  of wire. Each sculpture approximates a simple body 
	  	  or a miniature robot, with utensil limbs and a 
	  	  box-shaped frame for a head. Like an an all-purpose, 
                  fill-in-the-blank voodoo doll, the frame becomes a   
                  face when Wintje inserts a small,photocopied picture 
                  of her chosen candidate.

                  When she pairs up Gore and Bush in a single
                  sculpture, it's to document their "Self Inflicted
                  Wounds." The metal figure crosses its arms out front
                  in self-protection, and attached metal labels are
                  printed with the politicians' avoidable errors. "I
                  Did Bad on Reporter's Pop Quiz," reads one,
                  referencing an early Bush gaffe. "I Invented the
                  Internet," another label says, recalling Gore's
                  self-important misstep.

                  Some of Wintje's match-ups are funny and unexpected,
                  suggesting links between the most unlikely couples,
                  like a weird, intellectual version of "Six Degrees
                  of Kevin Bacon." "Joan and Satan Discuss Hot Seat"
                  is one such work. The idea of a discussion (such a
                  civil interaction!) between the devil and the martyr
                  pushes hard at the limits of our imagining. "The
                  Cutting Edge with Bobbitt and Van Gogh" disregards
                  boundaries of time and place to partner Lorena and
                  Vincent, two quirky characters with a shared
                  penchant for chopping off appendages. The title
                  seems to poke fun at the vernacular of the American
                  media -- it sounds vaguely like a late-night,
                  celebrity-driven, current-events TV chat show.

                  Kaufmann's couples are famous ones typically thought
                  of in pairs. She forces us to reconsider their
                  legends, exposing an alternative reality under the
                  polished glaze of conventional understanding. In
                  "The Story of Ferdinand and Isabella," the crowned
                  king and queen wear gorgeous gowns and hold their
                  oversized hands in their laps. The text on their
                  pedestal notes the Inquisition, the expulsion of
                  Jews from Spain. "It's hard to decide now if these
                  people were good or bad," Kaufmann writes. "We never
                  discriminate against minorities today or take over
                  their lands." Of course we know better. "The Story
                  of Georgia O'Keefe" concludes with a bitterly
                  practical moral: "If you want to have a career in
                  the arts, marry someone who can make you famous."

                  There's a jarring contrast between the eyes-open,
                  sometimes angry realism of the artist's message and
                  the sweet, folksy appeal of the objects themselves.
                  Left unread, the pieces are empty vessels, props
                  abandoned on a darkened stage. Like a political
                  puppet show, the art uses unthreatening images to
                  make its meaning accessible. In a few cases, as if
                  to prove herself capable of contentment, Kaufmann
                  celebrates the simple and domestic. One sculpture
                  thanks her mother for setting a good example, and
                  another describes pushing a baby in a carriage. The
                  child points at "dis" and "dat," passers-by smile
                  indulgently, and the text concludes "I am happy."

                  Wintje makes no similar statement, though her sense
                  of humor never fails her. Her "Women with Balls"
                  salutes fearless grrrl prototypes Frida Kahlo,
                  Josephine, and Juliet; its partner piece, "Lovers of
                  Women with Balls," provides a similar flip-chart of
                  heads of their counterparts, Diego Rivera, Napoleon,
                  and Romeo. One imagines the artist respects and
                  maybe identifies with these women. It's less clear
                  what she makes of Monica Lewinsky, whose giddy face
                  is topped with a tin-man funnel hat in one
                  sculpture, while a spiral of pencil words on her
                  chest spells out her crime, "inappropriate sexual
                  relations." The hat bears a second phrase in metal,
                  "becomes weight loss spokesperson." The intern looks
                  young and foolish, like a dunce or a clown, and the
                  words would make no sense at all in any time but our
                  own. Possibly the piece is simply about the
                  astonishing spectacle of it all, the strange ways of
                  American culture and its inexplicable icons.

                  Jenna Russell can be reached at
                  russelljenna@hotmail.com.

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