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Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

‘Freak Parade’ Marches on at Haggerty Museum of Art

Art Review

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Thomas Woodruff’s exhibition at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art (up through April 18) depicts one conundrum after another. Woodruff sets the stage for his raucous, colorful parade by telling all spectators, “This is not a display of organized power, collected wealth, or capitalism. This is about delicacy, not might,” as in Shelley’s poem Ozymandias and unlike the usual Macy’s Day parade in New York.

One of the showstoppers in his sometimes-hilarious menagerie is titled Siamese Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.  His transvestite wolves are wrapped in a sparkling new ewe, a living fleece, and tout classic proverbial flattery as they change wardrobes to go from day to evening wear by cleverly accessorizing. Woodruff’s poem about the conjoined wolves is “to let your imagination go wild, bah bah, goodbye!”

Wandering along the parade route, the spectator encounters another challenging character Dainty Desiree. Desiree represents Woodruff’s appraisal of 19th-century Romantic painters who were often intrigued with Oriental imagery. Wearing garlands in her hair, dragonfly wings in a bow around her waist, and orchids with ostrich feathers sprouting from her derriere, Desiree carries a tiny box with a deep, deep bottom filled by untranslatable, enigmatic Eastern sayings. Listening closely, one can faintly hear her tunes of yesteryear played on reedy pipes and finger cymbals.

Organic imagery permeates his mixed-media-on-paper pieces: tangled roots frame his characters, carrots and polka dot mushroom caps are special, flowers bloom abundantly, and Woodruff’s studies of human anatomy are unique. A multi-breasted drum majorette Bambi-Lynn twirls a torch baton, kicks high, and exhorts America to team spirit as the fertility goddess of the pageant. The critter in the next frame tries to look under her mini-skirt through clouds of cigar smoke and dangling mirrors. An orange Shiva figure Flower-Boy contemplates a peony that resembles the skull in Hamlet. What has Woodruff wrought with characters shackled to each other like pets? Many things when one let’s imagination go wild.

More of his characters reveal the heartache he feels over the loss of his friends to AIDS. Some like the Man of Lettuce are satirized as medically dangerous to Woodruff’s many friends.  He even portrays hints of himself in some frames. Freak Paradecan be viewed by googling “Thomas Woodruff” and on the Haggerty’s Web site,  www.marquette.edu/haggerty