Exhibition Catalog


Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Rosa
By Chandra Cerrito

Curator's Introduction

Anatomy is the study of the observable body and the logical extrapolation of its functions. “Subanatomy” is also an exploration of the body, but it is one that deals with its unobservable aspects and, in particular, with our consciousness of the body’s unobservable aspects.

These aspects include kinesthesia, the body’s physical sensations of its own muscular movement. They include the visceral, that which pertains to the soft interior organs such as the stomach, lungs, brain and heart. The unobservable aspects of the body include the experiential, bodily responses to outside stimuli. They also include efforts to imagine the body such as it exists on the microscopic, cellular and subatomic level. Admittedly, portrayals of the body, whether completely abstract or strictly representational in the traditional sense, may allude to the body both as it appears to the eye and as it “feels” internally; one of these extremes, however, usually dominates. The focus of this group of artwork is that of the latter, how the body feels or how one imagines it to be.

Perhaps the best historical precedent to this approach of representing the body is the artwork of Eva Hesse, the postminimalist sculptor. Much of Hesse’s work utilized materials that were body-like (skin-like latex, for example) and took on forms that were reactive to the physical forces, such as gravity and decay, which affect the human body. Other postminimalists such as Robert Morris also used materials in abstract forms that suggested the body in an almost subconscious way, becoming stand-ins for the human figure or affecting viewers on a visceral level. Well before the postminimalists, Surrealist sculptors like Alberto Giacommetti and Meret Oppenheim created forms that referenced the human sensation of its own body through either abstracted figuration or through subconscious metaphors for the body (as in the “Object {Luncheon in Fur},” Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup of 1936). In the 1960’s and 1970’s, minimalist sculptors like Donald Judd, installation artists like David Ireland, and performance artists like Allan Kaprow, began to incorporate the viewer in a more direct, physically engaging way, enabling the viewer to have a kinesthetic and/or experiential apprehension of the artwork as well as an aesthetic, intellectual, emotional and/or psychological apprehension.

More recently, Postmodern artist Kiki Smith combines representing the human figure through body-like materials that are subject to human experiences like gravity with more traditional figuration to portray the human experience. Other contemporaries like Ernesto Neto make forms that are non-figurative in the traditional sense but which react much like human flesh and in some cases can actually be experienced through physical interaction with them, providing both a human stand-in and an opportunity for viewers to experience physical sensations as a result of interacting with the sculptures. Ceramicists Ron Nagle and Ken Price make “abstract” forms that are evocative because of their underlying relatedness to our physical bodies. Some contemporary image makers like Catherine Wagner are concerned with depicting a new understanding of the body’s cellular make-up since recent major scientific discoveries in the realms of genetics and biotechnology.
This exhibition will explore some of the many ways that artists envision the unobservable aspects of the physical body, portray consciousness of unobservable bodily experiences, and offer opportunities for viewers to experience their own bodies on the kinesthetic and/or visceral levels.

Chandra Cerrito, Curator

Museum of Contemporary Art
Santa Rosa, CA