Tucked in the corner of the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University is Bethany Krull’s fascinating and thoughtful exhibit “Where are the wild things?”
Her exhibit consists of a dozen porcelain and mixed media animal sculptures and is part of the TopSpin series, which focuses on local and regional emerging artists. Each year three artists are selected to exhibit a solo show in the museum, complete with an opening reception and a full-color catalog of their work. Krull, a Buffalo-based sculptor, was selected as one of the three presenters out of 75 applications in this year’s group.
“Some artists come up right to the top,” said Michael Beam, curator of Collections and Exhibitions. “Everyone on staff felt very strongly about Krull’s work.”
It is easy to see why. Krull makes haunting pieces out of animal forms and toys that at first appear decorative but quickly reveal a simmering intensity. Through her skillful use of texture and color she creates juxtapositions and highlights differences.
All the pieces in “Where are the wild things?” display some facet of how humans interact with animals – as pets, as toys and as free creatures. Walking into the Tops gallery for the first time feels like stumbling into an odd and enchanting suburban yard.
In Krull’s “Ornament,” two long, powdered steel poles jut from a manicured mound of wood chips up to a small bird with a curved beak. The casting is stylized, but it is clear that this flamingo has no feathers. Few of the pieces have color or feathers or fur, and that makes them stranger, and with “Ornament” harder to look away from.
Much like the flamingo, most of the porcelain figures have inescapable gleaming eyes set into the soft matte finish of their body. The eyes shine in the light, and seem to stare and implore reflection on the piece. With the exhibit title painted on the wall, that reflection turns to how humans have taken the wild and replaced it with the cute, the restrained and the unnatural.
However, “Resurrection of Fluffy” and “Resurrection of Gemini” have porcelain animal skulls attached to toys, a white wooden cat marionette and a red wooden rocking horse respectively. They both have a palpable anxiety and sadness on display, coming at the question in a different way.
“I was thinking about the animate versus inanimate and how the relationship we maintain with our pets is not dissimilar to the ones we maintain with our toys,” Krull said in an email.
Not all of the pieces hit their mark. In “Surrogate (Birdie Topiary)” two small birds perch on the pot of a small spherical shrub, and in “Precious Pests,” a series of three squirrels, separated by two pillowcases and hanging by clothespins affixed to the scruff of their neck from a suspended clothesline, don’t stand as well on their own.
“Untitled” is a series of four fake grass platforms, surrounded by white picket fencing, and the third includes a rabbit figure. “Surrogate (ducky duck)” pits a shiny rubber duck being cuddled by a small realistic duck, eyes closed in a matte finish. Both are a bit too straightforward.
When Krull’s pieces are successful, they radiate creepy, angry, sad and nostalgic feelings and spur reflection on the exhibit’s central question.
What: Bethany Krull: Where are the wild things?
When: Through May 4
Where: Castellani Art Museum
Info: 286-8200 or www.castellaniartmuseum.org