Keep Out You Thieving Bastards brings together fifteen artists, some more known than others, that have an affiliation with the heartland of America. The success of this quirky group show, despite being uneven, lies in its unpretentious non-hierarchic presentation and curatorial framing, in addition to the inclusion of museum-quality work that, though loses some meaning when taken out of context, is nevertheless a joy to see.
Minnesota-based photographer Paul Shambroom is a good example of this. On view are two works selected from larger bodies that explore power and control in various guises. 1987 Honda Civic, 300 lbs ANFO Explosive (2005) is part of the artist’s series Security (2004-2007) that consists of photographs taken at outdoor facilities in the United States used to train law enforcement and medics responding to acts of terrorism. This particular photograph depicts the simulation of a car bomb attack that reduces a 1987 Honda Civic to debris splattered across a white wall. Lee, New Hampshire (Population 4,145) Board of Selectmen, January 27, 2003 (2003), from the artist’s earlier series Meetings (1999-2003), documents locally elected officials conducting town hall meetings. Both works epitomize the artist’s artfully deadpan and objective approach to image making, which leaves room for viewers to draw their own conclusions.
While Paul Shambroom focuses on the political, fellow Minnesota-based Alec Soth makes a living documenting the personal. In his serendipitous adventures on the back roads of America, Soth has photographed the spectacular vernacular of people, places, and things. On view in Keep Out You Thieving Bastards are three photographs from Soth’s celebrated Sleeping by the Mississippi series (1999-2004), all of which capture a poignant stillness.
In the staged photographs of Chris Larsen, an abandoned cottage mysteriously covered in snow and ice exemplifies the harsh ineluctable Midwestern winters. Though sun-drenched, it is a scene of pure dystopia. Other works by Angela Strassheim and Sara Woster, including a music video projected in the basement of the gallery directed by Chuck Statler, further suggest that the Midwest is more like Fargo and less like A Prairie Home Companion.
~John Everett Daquino
Images: ALEC SOTH, Charles Lindbergh's boyhood bed, Little Falls, Minnesota, 1999; PAUL SHAMBROOM, Lee, New Hampshire (population 4,145) Board of Selectmen, January 27, 2003, 2003. Courtesy Hendershot Gallery.