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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Species of Art Inspired by Nature

Villa Terrace’s cabinet of wonders

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A cabinet of curiosities displays a bunch of various collected things, often from the natural world. “Species & Specimens,” on view at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, is like walking through one of these cabinets in large form. It is a series of wonder rooms where contemporary artists take inspiration from nature in minute and grand scale, embracing the recognizable and weird.

The library on the second floor is home to porcelain pieces by Linda Wervey Vitamvas that take forms like blowing grasses or voluptuous mushrooms. Outdoors, these things are wild and messy. Here, they are polite, pristine, well-presented guests, glowing and glassy with breathy patinas of color. Conversely, Karin Davis’ It Waits Until Then is a monumental textile sculpture made with long greenish-brown strands of hair, which approximate the texture of a Wookie, winding in waves around about a 5-foot tall body. It is installed in a former bedroom, purposefully contrasting with the permanent installations of china, Oriental rug and paintings. The sculpture is like a nonchalant alien with a commanding presence, dropping in for a social call.

Various animal critters form recurring themes in the exhibition, and are an important part of Christopher Davis-Benavides’ work. Tronpetero II has a rotund, doughy four-legged body with a bent smokestack for a nose and a cone emerging from what passes for a tail. This amalgamation of parts makes for a walking mutant creature, a modern chimera. In mythology the chimera is a fearsome, unnatural animal. Davis-Benavides’ sculptures operate on this level, acting as art of wonder and warning.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the work of Barbara Reinhart. Her anthropomorphic treatment of slippers in a closet recalls a world alive with unseen feelings in the most ordinary of objects, even schleppy shoes. Reinhart’s pieces also inhabit drawers and shelves, but it is best to visit in person and savor the surprises she, and the other 10 artists in the exhibition, have in store.

“Species & Specimens” continues at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave. through May 25.