Reality's rebel
Sandy Skoglund brings to town her unique take on the world

Sunday, June 28, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sandy Skoglund sits amid "Fox Games" part of her exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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An elegant restaurant is invaded by two dozen hungry foxes. Orange goldfish swim around a blue bedroom. At a cocktail party, the room, the furniture, even the guests, are made of Cheese Doodles. The stuff of dreams? Not for photographer, sculptor and installation artist Sandy Skoglund.

"This is what I think about when I'm awake," she says. "I have normal dreams, about going to the hairdresser or eating a nice meal." Expect the unexpected in Reality Under Siege, Ms. Skoglund's exhibition that opens today at Cincinnati Art Museum. It includes four installations: "Revenge of the Goldfish," "Fox Games," "The Cocktail Party" and "Walking on Eggshells" plus 48 Cibachrome prints, lithographs, drawings and Xerox prints. (The fox-filled bistro and the cheesy soiree are real rooms.)

If you go
What: Sandy Skoglund: Reality Under Siege.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 23.
Where: Cincinnati Art Museum, Eden Park.
Admission: $5, $4 senior citizens and college students. Museum members and children under 18 free.
Information: 721-5204.
There's more: The catalog for Sandy Skoglund: Reality Under Siege is available at the Art Museum Store for $25. Published by Abrams, the hardcover edition is available in bookstores for $38.95.
Ms. Skoglund's work is best known from the popular postcards of her pictures. The most famous is "Radioactive Cats," showing two elderly people in a run-down gray room filled with 25 bright yellow-green cats.

"I like the idea that people are attracted to the image without thinking about how or why it came to be, or whether it's art or not," Ms. Skoglund says.

Each work of art has multiple realities, as an installation, a color photograph, a postcard, a collection of sculptured objects.

Careful preparation

Ms. Skoglund, 52, builds her installations in her New York studio, carefully sculpting the animals, arranging them in the setting, composing it for a camera.

Models are hired to pose for the photographs, but the settings survive without live models for installation in galleries and museums.

So it's sculpture, installation, photography and often performance, when the artist walks through the bathroom, crushing the eggshells under her feet.

"Radioactive Cats," a Cibachrome print by Skoglund, became a popular postcard.

In "Fox Games," gray foxes invade an elegant restaurant, which is painted red -- red walls, red chairs, red tables, red table cloths, red dishes containing red buns. In the photograph version, the room is gray, the foxes red.

"The foxes are leaping around," Ms. Skoglund says. " . . . The tables are invisible to them, functionally. They're just platforms to stand on. They will eat the food but ignore the paraphernalia." What foxes ignore, people need.

"Eating, in human society, is a ritual," Ms. Skoglund says. "The "Cocktail Party' has got this artificial seemingly unnatural, color. The Cheese Doodles seem to be alive, like worms or caterpillars. Then you have the cocktail party, which is all about ritualistic behavior.

"We think about rituals in other societies, but we don't think of our own rituals. The thing about rituals is that they are invisible to the participant." subhed:Unique voice body:

Skoglund, center, watches as Chris Gomien, left, and Mark Patsfall install "The Cocktail Party".
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Ms. Skoglund is the rare artist who has found a voice so unique that it needs a category all its own. It is as original as Alexander Calder's invention of the mobile, as penetrating a social commentary as William Hogarth's etchings of 18th century London society. And it began, as original ideas often do, from a rebellion against the prevailing art of the times.

Trained at the University of Iowa in the 1970s, she accepted the rigid doctrine of minimalism, which taught artists what not to do, such as creating figurative art, using color, conveying a message, showing real space, and having recognizable subject matter.

"I experienced a rage against that kind of work. I was so angry about art, but I still wanted to make images, so I looked at illustration and commercial images, at-home decorating magazines. I wanted to make things, to use craft. You hadn't been allowed to do that. "I wanted to make an art my mother could understand, art that would mean something to people who didn't have advanced academic art degrees."

Internet Teacher
Sandy Skoglund, listed as one of world's top 100 photographers by Life magazine, was selected by the Getty Educational Institute for the Arts to teach contemporary art on the Internet.

The ArtsEdNet web site includes discussions of her work, e-mail conversations with the artist and reproductions of 25 of her images

She has had 68 solo exhibitions in Europe, Asia and the United States and has been included in more than 150 group exhibitions since 1977. Her selected bibliography lists 150 articles and reviews of her work.

Ms. Skoglund has created an art that seems to deliver messages she hasn't even thought of.

"I haven't a clue what people are thinking about when they see my art. It gets into archetypes, of cultural images that go beyond art. I feel I've succeeded when a museum guard comes in here and just stands and stares.

"That's what an artist is supposed to do. That's the cultural heritage of art. It's the role of the magician, the person who is supposed to help the ordinary person make a connection with their culture."

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