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When two great artists work together, sometimes the results are dreamy. But artist collaborations can be feverish, disjointed, and wet-the-bed awful, too. Nightmare isn’t the right word for “Saturated with the Subconscious,” the team show by Erik Thor Sandberg and Megan Van Wagoner now on view at Flashpoint, but it’s an unsettling vision for sure.
Van Wagoner works in ceramics, for the most part; Sandberg is a surrealist painter. “Saturated with the Subconscious” pairs her ceramic sculptures with his paintings in 25 decorated pillows. Every pillow-painting represents a concise narrative, most of them quite vivid. There’s a 26th sculpture, too, but that part of the dream is worth forgetting.
Just inside the gallery door, one untitled sculpture sets the pace for the show. (None of the works in the show have names, which seems fitting for the dream theme, except for that 26th sculpture, “Muffled Dreams.”) Seen from the open end of the pillowcase, this premier pillow, as it were, appears to be leaking teeth. Several molars spill out from a crack in the bottom of the pillow. A bit on-the-nose, maybe, but a decent standalone collab; in another context, it might marry Jasper Johns’ “The Critic Smiles” with Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed.”
But turn the corner, and there’s a wall of 24 more pillows! In each one, the ceramic pillow sculpture serves as the infrastructure, the delivery mechanism, for a pat narrative painting. A naked woman swaps her head with the skull of a skeleton. A Rip Van Winkle–looking geezer chops his beard off with shears. These are Hans Christian Andersen’s dreams: mini–morality plays and medieval-manuscript creatures abound. A few pieces borrow a bit less from familiar fairy tales: In one, a woman pedals a simple machine that slaps her nude ass. That one might be drawn from one of Jerry Saltz’s dreams, that salty, semi-creepy dog (and New York magazine art critic).
Seen from one angle, the centerpiece of “Saturated with the Subconscious” is almost cool: 24 bulbous, floating, amorphous, untitled blobs. The faux folds of ceramic look more like cement than anything, and the shapes are potentially interesting. But seen from the other angle—the one in which you can see the little allegories inside—nope, they’re all pillows. This is one of those boring, repetitive dreams.
Then there’s work #26, “Muffled Dreams,” a precise sculpture of an ironing board. On it lies a pillowcase (another ceramic work) that’s been painted to appear as if it’s been burned by an iron. After exhausting the possibilities of one idea, Van Wagoner and Sandberg—who are both capable of doing so much good independently—seem to have decided to move on from dreams to the theme of linens. Thanks, but I think I’ll go back to bed. Wake me when it’s over?
916 G St. NW. Free. (202) 315-1305. culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpoint-gallery