From surreal to sublime, ‘Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear’ sparks conversation

by Dee Grano

Mattia Biagi-Stay Out of My Closet

The Mint Museum’s new “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” exhibit is open until July 8 at the museum. Photos courtesy of the Mint Museum

There is nothing to fear but fear itself, especially when it comes to visual art.

Regardless of the medium or subject matter – good art provokes thought and opens discussion. The whimsical, wild and weird artwork in “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” does both. The exhibition runs through July 8 at the Mint Museum Uptown,

“This exhibition is a look at contemporary art that explores the world of magical stories, imagination and fear in works ranging from clay sculpture to cut paper,” said Annie Carlano, the Mint’s director of craft and design. The exhibition includes contemporary art from the museum’s permanent collection, supplemented by local loans and the work of four invited artists.

Exhibit-goers are immediately transported to an otherworldly place through a forest of white trees made entirely from polypropylene tubing. “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” is divided into three rooms, each prefaced by a campy educational video hosted by Sir John Westington (played by the Mint’s IT manager) and his creepy sidekick, Julius.

“Fairytales take us out of our ordinary lives,” said Sarah Wolfe, curatorial assistant for the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. “Most of us grew up with stories, books and Disney movies where the hero saved the day and defeated the villain to live happily ever after in a colorful land with no traffic, pollution or politics.”

“Perfect Game” by Ai Jikima, is a quilted textile mash-up of Disney dwarves, dolls in fancy dresses and superheroes.

This section continues with some darkly intense images, like the work of Italian artist Mattia Biagi who covers a larger-than-life Wolf (from “Little Red Riding Hood”) and a miniature version of Cinderella’s carriage in stringy black tar. These pieces of art reinterpret icons of lost innocence and the result is spectacularly spooky.

The art found in “Fantasy” explores alter-egos and superheroes, with embroidered comic-book covers and life-sized heroes’ costumes hand-knit out of acrylic yarn. American fiber artist Mark Newport comments on the ultra-masculinity and vulnerability of masked crusaders. As the pieces hang lifelessly on the wall, the viewer is reminded that the costume is only as fearless as the person who wears it.

“Fear” features masks, a stonewear “Face Jug” by Jason Luck and a large cut-paper piece called “Eros and Thanatos,” a black skull burgeoning with an intricate lacework of flowers, insects and animals. “(Kako) Ueda actually didn’t intend to scare her viewers,” Wolfe said. “She created the work after her mother’s experience with a life-threatening illness and slow return to health.”

Though the admissions staff is quick to caution visitors with small children, “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” is a valuable opportunity to expose children and youth to contemporary visual art.

“Kids tend to appreciate the extremes, whether it’s really gross, incredibly goofy, technically intricate, or whimsical,” said Leslie Strauss, family programs coordinator for the Mint Museum. “They are so creative and see so many things that adults overlook.”

For parents afraid of their child’s reaction to “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear,” Strauss reassures.

“Many parents do find that looking at art together opens the door to a heightened level of conversation with their children, and they should take the opportunity to hear what their kids have to say. If something challenging does come up, let the child respond and move on. Kids are experts at that.”

Family-friendly programming connected to “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” includes a Sunday Fun Day on May 20 from 1 to 4 p.m. The theme is “Fantastic Beasts & Creepy Creations,” which will inspire freaky face jug crafts, stop-motion animations led by John Lemmon, storytelling from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and a “Monster Mash” dance-off. The event is free for children and Mint members, with half-price museum admission for adults.

The contemporary art in “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” pays respect to the original Surrealists of the early 1920s emerged from Dada, a movement that rejected reason and logic and attempted to confront the horrors of World War I.

These artists turned to psychology to tap the subconscious mind to fully access imagination. Surrealists practiced “automatic drawing,” or freeform artistic improvisation that kids can enjoy as an activity in the Family Gallery on the Lobby Level of the Mint Museum Uptown. Consequently surrealist art is dreamlike, sometimes strange and seemingly impossible.

Up one floor from “Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear” is “Surrealism and Beyond,” three exhibitions in one that contain the works of Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage (a love story told in paintings in “Double Solitare”), Charles Seliger (the focus of “Seeing the World Within” that will travel to Italy in June), and Gordon Onslow Ford (paintings from his family’s collection in “Voyager and Visionary”).

“The three shows are perfect complements to ‘Fairytales, Fantasy and Fear’ in their exploration of otherworldliness, mystery, exhilaration, and discomfort,” Wolfe said.

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