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June 13th, 2012 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Undressing Room at Froelick Gallery

There’s a place I know, if you’re looking for a show.

vizarts.box.nakedman3832RISWOLD’S OWIES (WITHOUT PANTS) - IMAGE: Jim Riswold with Ray Gordon

In a state where hot-springs skinny dipping and strip-club flesh ogling are de rigueur, can an art exhibition about naked bodies pique, tweak or shock anyone? Not really, as it turns out. But Froelick Gallery nonetheless deserves props for giving it a go in its juried group show, Undressing Room. The 56 artists on view utilize the nude form in diverse, if seldom groundbreaking, ways.

Some of the tactics are arbitrary. Painter Rick Bartow and sculptor Lisa Kaser basically use the same sort of imagery they employ in their non-nude work, except for the handy addition of a penis. Gregory Grenon, who normally paints clothed women, removes the clothes to expose boobs, bush, and tan lines. Other artists aim for whimsy but achieve mere cutesiness, as in Heidi Preuss Grew’s mascotlike sculptures, Valerie Wallace’s print of a nude George Washington and John Opie’s portrait of a nude woman vacuuming.

But “cutesy” is far from “hot,” and while nudes are not required to arouse, any show with this much skin ought to throw viewers a few more bones. Yes, it’s difficult to truly titillate in the era of ubiquitous porn, but it’s not impossible; contemporary artists such as Bill Henson, Nan Goldin, Shen Wei and Takashi Murakami know how to darken the nude’s overexposure with tinges of psychological danger. But Undressing Room includes only a few works that are genuinely, disturbingly erotic. One is James Rexroad’s shadowy ode to clit-fingering, Untitled (Secret Girlfriends), and another is Leiv Fagereng’s pagan celebration of armpits and erections, Deseo.

A few works transcend eros to make a point about the fragility of the mortal coil, celebrating bodies that differ from those in fashion magazines and blockbuster films. In a self-portrait, Sam Roloff, who was born with diastrophic dwarfism and walks with crutches, shows off his body, adorned with nothing but eyeglasses. Photographer Jim Riswold, assisted by fellow photographer Ray Gordon, bares his scars, bandages, bruises and catheterized penis in Riswold’s Owies (Without Pants), a testament to the ravages of leukemia, lung disease and prostate cancer. A well-known advertising executive for Wieden+Kennedy before he became an artist, Riswold remains one of the savviest self-promoters in the Northwest, so at first it’s difficult to separate the courageousness of his body-positive exhibitionism from the borderline unseemliness of a marketeer turning medical problems into artistic fodder. But clearly—visibly, poignantly— Riswold has earned the right to exploit his own body. In a show that all too often errs on the side of caution, Riswold’s mélange of self-confidence and devastation is unexpectedly shocking and more than a little sexy.


SEE IT: Undressing Room is at Froelick Gallery, 714 NW Davis St., 222-1142. Through July 13.

 
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