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Islip Art Museum


Why did the artist cross the road?

The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven.
Mark Twain

Humor is complicated. It can be brutally honest or coyly deceptive. It can provoke hysterical laughter, anger or tears. It has the ability to strip away layers of obfuscation; to be poignant, acerbic or haunting; or to insult, amuse or inflame. Typically, great humorists thrive on their own cultural perimeters, bouncing off the collective walls of their community. Is anything universally funny? Hmmm...it would be hard to find anyone - anywhere - who didn't respond to the pratfalls of Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, or Krazy Kat. Even the ironies of Rene Magritte, Guiseppe Archimboldo's fruit and vegetable portraits from the 16th century, or Philip Guston's cigar-puffing cartoons share a universality that exists both inside and outside cultural mores and language. The cartoons of Hogarth, Daumier and Richard Prince, Chicago's Hairy Who, Bill Wegman's dogs, the subversions of Duchamp—these have all become art world legends, existing within the official canon of art history and at the same time lampooning it. Islip Art Museum has mounted an exhibit that examines the not so strange bedfellows of art and humor in "Wit on Rye", curated by Karen Shaw.

Speaking of Duchamp, William Stone's Shaker Cabinet sneaks up on viewers with levity that is reminiscent of the famed artist's sarcasm. The sculpture appears to be nothing more than a simple wooden dresser, unadorned and not the least bit self-conscious. It has been placed at the base of the stairs as if left behind by a crew of worn out movers. Then suddenly—without warning—the doors begin to flap open in a mechanical frenzy, spinning like whirling Dervishes until they finally collapse into the interior and resume what was their former identity. The spinning slats create a commotion that shakes not only the sculpture but everything within earshot. Similarly deceptive, at first glance the paintings of Ron Hutt appear to pay homage to the storytelling typical of ancient Greek urns. But on closer inspection, Hutt's chariots and winged horses yield to a modern mythology in which the classics have been updated with cell phones, helicopters and tripods. In one, the goddess Demeter looks on as two immense Polar bears claw at a Hummer. In Heracles_01.2.painting, Hercules emerges from his lion skin; his legendary club poised high overhead ready to engage in combat with an onslaught of Apache Attack Helicopters. Like classic Grecian urns, the images here are painted in red and black. The effect is a stunning reminder of the times in which we live.

Lance Rutledge No less provocative but far more elusive, Lance Rutledge skewers the English language with wall-to-wall non-sequiturs, obscure puns and impenetrable sentences. Painted on canvas in oddball colors, the paintings invite speculation on both their meaning and derivation. Hand-painted in yellow, the words "you give me cabin fever" are cast against a soupy orange ground. The words variously clump in corners, drift to the margins or hover like little poems across rectangles of pigment. On a canvas divided by areas of black and gray, the phrase "we have not yet decided what to do about the missing piano keys" slugs across the top half above five smiley heads that bounce on the tips of soft blue triangles. Baffling and arcane, the discordant words and pictures beg a smile in spite of their mysteries.

Jimmy and Dena Katz For Jimmy and Dena Katz, the Salt Flats of the great Southwest serve as both subject matter and artistic playground. The natural beauty of the Great Salt Lake and the mineral flats that surround it were breathtaking to the couple. But the real surprise was the evidence of human activity that exists alongside this sprawling natural phenomenon. Here in the desolate vastness of northern Utah, visitors have left behind pink flamingos, plastic penguins and life size cows, racecars and detritus of all kinds. The artist team documented the configurations of these cultural leftovers au-natural—they did nothing to pose the images or manipulate the landscape. The resulting pictures and surreal terrain were so arresting that the images were collected into a book called Salt Dreams, published by Powerhouse Press.

Beloved New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast is represented here with a suite of narrative drawings that celebrate the day dreams and dilemmas of bedraggled office workers, beleaguered housewives, families, pets and run-of-the-mill city folk. Even in the most hysterical works, her treatment of life-as-we-know-it is touching and tender. Allen BarberThe late Allen Barber mingled humor, hubris and storytelling in his comic paintings and silk screens. The prints, from his 1988 publication titled Animals Make Music, depict eyeless beasts and ferocious dogs variously racing, howling, snarling and stomping on piano keys. His oil paintings, slightly more macabre, celebrate the oddities typical of Ripley's Believe It Or Not—chickens with teeth, human heads resting on dinner plates, dogs inside brains, and unknowable monster hybrids of all manner and disposition.

Linus Coraggio For sculptor Linus Coraggio, the pun resides in a sort of whoopee cushion of found objects that the artist assembles into chairs and benches. Designed for chortles as opposed to comfort, Coraggio's furniture is an amalgam of bicycle seats, bowling balls and picture tubes. The structures, made from scavenged materials the artist finds on the streets of Brooklyn, range from chairs to choppers. In Meter, the artist fashioned a sort of pay-as-you-go seating device, complete with its own parking meter and traffic sign "cushion". Lindsay PackerSimilarly, Lindsay Packer uses found images and text to create collages that celebrate fairytales, childhood and elementary notions of science. Fascinated by early knowledge and the type of insights we have before something is fully comprehended, Packer juxtaposes basic linguistics and scientific thought with bunnies, beasts and poodles, angel wings and shadows, children and homemakers. The works are exquisitely unpretentious. Pinned to the wall, Packer paints over textbooks, deftly slicing away windowpanes, animals, and shadow shapes. The results are both poetic and ironic. No less so are the titles they bear such as Fire bunnies, I breathe fire on you, and Carnivals are the first defense.

Bill Cravis You can thank Bill Cravis the next time you chuckle while placing that order for sushi deluxe. His sculpture, Food For The Gods will make you shift gears before chomping down on that spicy tuna roll. In this whimsical installation, Cravis retools the food craze by transposing Matchbox Cars™ for Salmon and Yellow Tale; Styrofoam for sticky rice and cement slabs for dinner plates. Cravis's spoof on nigiri sushi places vehicular tidbits around traffic circles or parks them on a diagonal. Tiny flatbed trucks carry loads of Wasabi and Salmon Roe as if transporting it through a Lilliputian village. The results are a hoot.


—Janet Goleas