Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

With the (seeming) greatest of ease

The Barnum Museum
820 Main St., Bridgeport, (203) 331-1104
Celebrating the Spirit of P.T. Barnum: The Sculpture of David Millen
Through Jan. 2, 2011

Arrayed in the Barnum Museum's high-ceilinged gallery in a circle beneath four bigtop-like drapes of fabric, David Millen's figurative sculptures radiate kinetic joy. Almost all Millen's works are sculpted with epoxy resin layered over a steel armature. Millen additionally lingers over the surfaces of the works, incorporating textures, colors, bronzing, marbling.

The earliest and most abstract work in the show, dating from 1999, is "Hands on Hands," a 15-foot tall stainless steel sculpture. "Hands on Hands" is minimalist in its design but maximal in its evocation of grace and interconnection. Using burnished steel rods, Millen has one figure, bent at the knees, balancing another figure high over his or her head. Seldom have stick figures seemed so artful.

I assumed that it was indicative of the work Millen had been doing a decade ago. But Millen—who happened to arrive at the gallery with his wife and friends while I was there—said that actually the work was a large scale version of the armatures that inhabit the interiors of all his pieces. The work was based on a smaller armature Millen had made and was assembled to Millen's specifications by Alexander Calder's fabricator.

Trapeze artists, ring dancers, gymnasts, unicyclists, acrobats, jugglers, aerialist, even Pilobolus dancers. Millen freezes them in action as they defy gravity, take wing and execute feats of balance and strength.

The figures are streamlined, built for speed, stylized. The trick, according to Millen, is to construct the armature in the right proportion, based on Greek form. Many of his surfaces are smooth and glazed with marbleized swirls. Others have rugged textured surfaces. The figure in "Ring Dancer" sports an epoxy cloak patterned with a screen pressed into the epoxy while still malleable. Millen further tinted the garment with gold and bluish powders and crushed black glass powder that appears to glitter. Iridescent patterned gold foil lights up the clothing of "Juggler on Unicycle."

The works are testimonials to the glorious side of the human spirit—defying limitations, reaching for the heavens and, importantly, cooperative and supportive endeavor. Most of these works depict entertainers like those one might see in a circus, bringing wide-eyed joy to children and parents alike. But one of my favorites is not of circus performers at all. Created this year, "Mother's Love" shows a woman leaning back and holding her child's arms as she swings him or her through the air. It is a representation of primal pleasure and more—the inculcation of bonds of trust and adventure that hopefully may usher the child fearlessly cartwheeling into the world in their own.

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