On a particularly rainy Friday afternoon, I timidly crept into the Olin Arts Center and lingered around the opening of a new body of work on display in the museum. The exhibit, entitled Heads, Hands, Feet; Sleeping, Holding, Dreaming, Dying, was the first time Rona Pondick and Robert Feintuch had shown their works together.
Pondick is world renowned, with a Masters in Fine Arts from Yale, and countless awards and grants such as the Anonymous Was a Woman Award. She also has shown her work at MAMBo (the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bologna Italy). Feintuch also attended Yale and has received prestigious grants such as a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Fellowship, and has been on display at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice. He was a senior lecturer at Bates during several of the past years and will return this winter to teach his last semester here.
My first impression of the exhibit was an eclectic and nuanced mix of Roald Dahl and Salvador Dali. The vibrant pastels and abstracted forms in Feintuch’s work reminded me of The BFG or James and the Giant Peach. The effect was unsettling and uplifting at the same time, and seemed to satisfy exactly what Feintuch intended for his work. He aims to use the body to provoke a psychologically suggestive reaction from the viewer.
I felt the contrast and oxymoron within both Pondick’s and Feintuch’s work, both juxtaposing their own physical forms with common ideas or myths, like the sphinx in Pondick’s Dog and Hercules in Feintuch’s Fat Hercules. Both of the artists use their own body forms as a key piece of their work. In each of Pondick’s sculptures, the hybridized human form is a cast reproduction of her own body. Feintuch draws inspiration from his own forms, and then builds upon them.
Just as I completed my first walk around the exhibit, the room gathered to have an informal conversation with the talented couple. Both artists were passionate, and had a fabulous and quirky sense of humor. Rona started with a soft quip that there were “no smart questions and no dumb questions,” which elicited a sputter of laughter from the crowd. The group of spectators was filled with friends, colleagues, and former students, each person invested in the two people standing up there in front of them, so full of passion and pure artistic talent.
When asked by another audience member about their style, Feintuch replied that he had to make a “long, uncomfortable, transition from abstract to figurative painting.” He elaborated on his tendency to use classical forms and ideologies, and then distort them until he finds it funny. He likes the unproportional idea of Ingres’ Odalisque, and then combined that with the Greek mythological figures Bacchus and Dionysus, to form an unorthodox representation of strength. Feintuch redefines classical motifs of strength and the male form. Pondick also works towards eliciting a thought-provoking reaction, and said, “I’m an object maker and a control freak and I want to make an object that occupies its own space.”
Another person from the crowd wondered to what extent Pondick and Feintuch’s art influenced each other, to which Pondick responded that they had never really realized any similarities until ten to fifteen years after the creation of each piece. I chimed in and asked what it meant to them to finally be exhibited together after all this time, and they gave each other a quizzical look, as if they didn’t quite know what I meant. Perhaps the two artists are both so confident in their own work and so proud of the other that they were puzzled by the idea that the message of their work would be changed just because their work was together.
The key to why Pondick and Feintuch’s pieces are so evocative is their lifelong commitment to breaking convention, to creating art that really makes the viewer think. Together they combine contradictory themes such as the digital age and growing old with traditional artistic theory and an unconventional medium. Each of these artists are strong and prolific on their own, but the combination of their work brings each of their creations into a new perspective, allowing their work to continue to evolve years after the pieces were originally made.
The exhibit Heads, Hands Feet; Sleeping, Holding, Dreaming, Dying, will be on display at Bates College until March 23, 2018, after which it will move on to other national museums.