Davin Watne’s ‘Consumer Foreplay’ critiques modern materialism

By ELISABETH KIRSCHSpecial to The StarPosted on Wed, Jun. 08, 2011In the ambitious exhibit “Consumer Foreplay,” Davin Watne’s paintings, installations and sculptures take the subject of over-consumption to a new level.  If Watne’s dark and theatrical paintings recall the dramatic, heroic painting styles of such 19th-century artists as J.M.W. Turner and Eugene Delacroix, his flamboyant and deliberately garish sculptures would be at home in the Folies Bergere. In this show, Watne wants to have his cake and eat it too — his work ranges from the glamorous to the deadly — and for the most part he succeeds.Watne’s art has often focused on the subject of collisions, especially the violence that occurs between the natural world and that of the technological.In “Consumer Foreplay,” he circles around the emotional and moral battles people wage as they are caught between a culture that demands immediate gratification and the resulting environmental and human rights costs.Using materials such as feathers, jewelry, sequins and stockings, he assembles gaudy objects to represent the seductive marketing strategies of contemporary advertising. In “Piston” and “Mt. Vernon Street Walker,” he spills these ultra-feminine accessories from opened purses in abstract displays of erotica. The messages sent by these works are too ambiguous; they resemble everything from feminist statements from the ’70s to the most gorgeous of party arrangements.The exhibit’s title piece, “Consumer Foreplay,” however, is a masterpiece of fetishism.For this glorious rococo sculpture, Watne cut and sewed elongated swaths of different colored leathers that simulate giant designer handbags, from which emerge hand-carved legs and arms groping themselves. Attached are beads, hosiery, hair and butterflies in a titillating tangle of the crassest of materialism.“The butterflies,” Watne says, “represent the pollination of consumer products that both attract and threaten to overcome us.”Across the room, in a yin-yang spin, are three paintings of nautical disasters in which airliners and tankers are sinking or have disappeared. With a nod to Theodore Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa,” in “Fantasy, Reality, Bureaucracy” a tiny figure on a raft struggles to survive hurricane waves under which a ship’s goods have sunk to the bottom of the sea. “Transnational Interrupt” is a surrealist depiction of a floundering plane and boat at sea. As published in KC StarThe largest, most minimal and mysterious of the paintings is “The Only Thing to Hold on To,” in which a lone cooler or container floats in the darkest of waters. This work has a real sense of the tragic. One of the powers of these paintings is that they can be interpreted in a variety of ways, particularly given the current climate of ecological and man-made disasters.Separating these two distinct bodies of work are towers of hair extensions. Murder and theft are now associated with the huge demand for such products, but their function here is somewhat mute.In “Snow Mound,” a large corner installation in which a shopping cart has crashed into simulations of snow piles, Watne offers an ironic take on one of the most recent consumer catastrophe/collisions: a winter with so much cold and ice that shoppers were kept at bay.The activity of acquiring, Watne’s art insinuates, entails choices, and those choices entail costs, many of which we refuse to acknowledge.On exhibit:“Davin Watne: Consumer Foreplay” continues at Studios Inc. Exhibition Space, 1708 Campbell St., through June 24. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 816-994-7134.