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POPULOUS: Wunderkammer Company's New Pop

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Pop Art is by far the most successful art movement in Art History. No other artistic style or movement has had the power over both the art world and mass culture.

Wunderkammer Company, a non-profit arts organization based in Fort Wayne devoted to promoting contemporary art, is making use of the power of Pop art with its next exhibition, "Populous." "Populous" has been built as an exhibition, which will add a significant performance aspect during its opening, February 19th, creating an interactive experience. Wunderkammer Co. has invited Joshua Witten, Holly Clabaugh, Daniel Dienelt, Michael Shifflett, John Collins McCormick, and Bambi Guthrie to exhibit works which express different aspects of contemporary pop concepts and techniques. Their work is both in the vein of, and in response to the Pop Art of the past.

The original Pop Art movement was cynical, consumer conscious, and accessible.
By tapping into the everyday experience and exalting it as a work of fine art, those original pioneers like Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg were able to bring the exclusivity of the art world down a peg, and bring the taste of American consumers into focus, showing the inhabitants of the late 1950's and 1960's just what they were buying into and raving about as our nation went through its first large economic bubble.

Fast forward through the seventies and height of Warholian Pop, the eighties with a burning hot art market, the nineties YBA sensations, and the millennium's return to a market of art-as-equity, and we notice that Pop has never left us, just transformed and developed different cadences with each wave of new artists. Currently, contemporary pop art has more to do with street culture, the flash of a camera, and the ubiquitous world of pop culture.

In Fort Wayne, there is a significant vein of contemporary pop art being made and exhibited by a number of young artists. In fact, Pop Art seems to be one of the strongest thematic references among Fort Wayne's contemporary artists. Daniel Dienelt, a highly talented artist working in photography, video, and mixed media painting taps into the contemporary pop concept through manipulated found media, the eye of the camera, and the ambiguously painterly creation of images which could easily be a part of a sign or advertisements. As a testament to his versatile use of media, pieces like "My Thoughts are Deep and unforgivable" are created through a combination of ink, spraypaint, latex, and market. This smorgasbord of information, layered onto the picture plane, gives the work a feeling both of highly crafted fine art, and the nostalgic, empathetic feeling of discarded objects and weathered materials found in urban environments.

Where Dienelt's mixed media pieces bring up references to the street and the transience of the public, Holly Clabaugh's photography is rooted in the memory of the past. Clabaugh, a student at the University of Saint Francis, is creating some of the most poignant photography in Fort Wayne's art scene. While her images have a decidedly pre-Pop era feeling to them, with their graining black and white textures, they deal more with the universal idea of what the past looked like in a mass-psychological sense. Pieces like "The Conservative", and "Sticks and Stones", have the feeling and anxiety of what we have been trained, through pop cultural elements like film and tv representations of what the post-war/cold war era was. By using period clothing and props, Clabaugh also taps into the importance that fashion and design play in what we think of certain time periods and the pop experiences in them. In a similar way, Michael Shifflett creates what feels like a film still from a 60's noir classic into "French Pop No. 1", a large scale black and white painting which references both Fellini and Lichtenstein with a close up image of a woman's face.

Bambi Guthrie, also a University of Saint Francis student and photographer, shies away from nostalgia and representations of time in her work, and focuses much more on attitude. Guthrie's photography, like "Fallen Angel I" exhibits an oddly subtle gothic aesthetic, and an appreciation for the shocking or bizarre. John Collins McCormick, goes against the grain with "12 Untitled Drawings on Paper", which is both a collection of commodity drawings, and a small self-contained installation of his work. McCormick's drawings are Pop at its most basic unit. McCormick obsessively marks the paper with candy paint colored markers creating hidden universal images like numbers in the picture plane. Last but not least, Joshua Witten embodies the idea of contemporary Pop Art perfectly with his immaculately fresh images like "The Antigravity Machine", which is an image of a break dancer and his boom box on a bleak minimalist plane. Witten's use of a macro comic line quality and color fields, sense of color and scale, and complex cast of imagery make for visual poems which are read, line by line, with each impression.

In addition to this great cast of artists, "Populous" will also include a group of local musicians covering and slightly skewing the "poppiest" of current Pop songs like Sky Thing's abstracted rendition of "Cobrastyle" by the Scandinavian sensation Robyn, Mac's Merry Minstrels, a local group of classical string musicians, performing a medley of Lady GaGa's #1 hits, Hope Arthur covering Lady GaGa's "Beautiful Dirty Rich", and Mason Dillon covering the music of Imogen Heap.

With this sensational combination of visual and performing arts, Wunderkammer Company is creating a rich cultural experience, much like the "art parties" of the 60's and 70's where all of the avant-garde (be they thinkers, makers, or performers) could be found mingling, dancing, and drinking.

"Populous" opening will take place on Friday, February 19th, from 5-11pm at the Dash In, at 814 S. Calhoun Street.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.