“I like this title and this proverb because I’m still not really sure what it means,” writes Eric Ruschman in his curatorial statement for “A Cat May Look On A Queen,” on view at The Green Gallery in Milwaukee. Ruschman appears comfortable with ambiguity. His exhibition threads the group of artists he has gathered around this mysterious mantra.
At some level it’s about cats. Artists Antonio Adams, Ad Minoliti and Anna Anthropy contribute artworks with feline subject matter. This is fine, and certainly of a piece with contemporary culture. The cat is our ubiquitous source of cultural succor. We have cats on the brain, in our hearts, on our T-shirts, and, of course, on our screens.
Adams’ cats are awesome. They are feline-sized 1980s-era robot sculptures, wrought from disco-ball mirror tiles, paper and craft markers, and strategically placed around the gallery floor as if buzzing around on wheels. The sculptures contain surrogate identities. They appear as reincarnated heroes for Adams. “New Whitney Houston” and “New Martin Luther King Jr.” are two of the fever dream portraits on display.
Ruschman pushes the concept of cats beyond pop world supremacy. As the proverb in his title suggests, cats looking upon kings suggests that paupers may stand beside royalty, that we all have power and agency. Ruschman seeks to democratize the elitism of the art world by including untrained, visionary artists along with more established artists in the same exhibition. Though this leveling has been happening in commercial galleries and museums for many years, the work is not complete and Ruschman’s curation is refreshing.
“Temazcal” is a totemic spire that anchors the front gallery from floor to ceiling. Georgina Valverde has fused polyethylene bags, yarn and hemp to a steel and wood armature to create a colorful, talismanic tube. The title refers to a Mexican sweat lodge, which leads the viewer to intuit rising smoke, chimneys and heat from the collection of materials. I found this woven tower to be a powerful meditation. Nathalie du Pasquier offers small, abstracted oil paintings on paper. In pale and poetic neutrals, they have a quiet power and control. Ruth Root is a master of color and juxtaposition. Her multimedia paintings reveal broken borders and dazzling mark-making.
The exhibition also included glitchy, narrative video games that echoed the pixelated 1980s’ universe. I’m sure I am to blame, but I found them as frustrating and purgatorial as using a computer in the veritable 1980s.
I admit that the sum of this exhibition left me somewhat wanting. Perhaps this is because I saw it at the very outset of the paranoia and anxiety that this pandemic has caused. The artwork seemed to lack enough gravity for this moment. Ruschman certainly couldn’t have known this when he organized this show, and art should have the freedom to be humorous, sardonic, even frivolous. But it did make me think that artists should strive to create work potent enough to survive apocalypse. (Rafael Francisco Salas)
“A Cat May Look On A Queen” is on view at The Green Gallery, 1500 North Farwell Avenue, Milwaukee, through April 25. Open by appointment only.