Dildos, Ice Cream, and Nuts

Photography gets down and dirty at ArtCenter/South Florida

Samantha Salzinger may be able to find her way blindfolded around a sex shop. At least that's what's suggested by her provocative pieces on display at ArtCenter/South Florida.

Salzinger is one of six local artists whose work is on display in the "Alternative Photographs" exhibit organized by indie curator Carol Jazzar. All of it examines developing trends in photography.

Salzinger's impeccably crafted dioramas, near the gallery entrance, are wickedly clever and pay off in spades. She creates pieces that remind me of those old View-Master toys that, with the push of a finger, allowed 3-D excursions to national parks such as Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons. The difference? In Salzinger's version, the monuments are what were once referred to as "marital aids."

Samantha Salzinger's untitled piece
Courtesy of Fredric Snitzer Gallery
Samantha Salzinger's untitled piece
Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova's After Thanksgiving
Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery
Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova's After Thanksgiving

One untitled work, an oval-shape wood, plastic, fluorescent light, and color transparency construction, is painted a blushing skin tone. Two white View-Master-like peep holes appear at the center. A Bavarian castle, nestled against a dramatic backdrop of conifers and mountains, is seen through the left lens. Also there is an "Ultra Flesh Velvet Touch Clit-licker" (or so it's termed on the Adam and Eve sex toy Website), which sits on a dusting of snow. Through the other viewer one gazes upon an alpine clearing where a rubber replica of a porn star's breasts bursts from a patch of daisies and heaves toward the clouds. One is immediately struck by these works' shared sensibility with glory holes found in seedy XXX book shops that allow perverts to drop in on the action in coin-operated film booths.

Another of Salzinger's unnerving vistas rockets the viewer into deep space in what might be described as a scene from Bambi Does Jules Verne. It reveals a starry sky with a ringed planet in the foreground. On what might be the sandy surface of one of its moons, a "Futorotic Cyberskin Jack-Off Sleeve" lies next to a meteor chunk. The sleeve's orchid-petal labia seems to promise the orgasmic ride of one's life.

Perhaps the most subtle of her works on display depicts what appears to be a room in a cloistered monastery. Inside it a Bible and a chalice are propped on a lace-covered table. A pair of hands is pictured cupped together as if in prayer — it is actually a male masturbatory tool.

It might occur to some spectators that Salzinger is making a statement about notions of femininity and sexuality in contemporary society, but if that's true, it's difficult to determine what statement. She made me think of some twisted fairytale/nightmare hatched between Dr. Ruth and the Brothers Grimm, or of those twilight places in the psyche parents stumble across when explaining sexual awakening to their kids.

But for all their discomfiting nature, I have to admit there is something oddly compelling about Salzinger's works that makes it hard to peel away the eyes. They definitely leave one eager to explore more.

Mark Koven has some of the more complex works in the show, and perhaps the most gorgeous and crisp images. Koven's six stunning, color-saturated, lenticular 3-D photographs from his series Cream also exude a disturbing sense of sexual tension. They depict faceless Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Brownies of various ages licking ice cream cones.

These photographs were snapped as an ice cream vendor passed out cones to the kids while "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Cure's "I Am Killing an Arab" blared in the background. Koven recruited the scouts to show how nations often indoctrinate youth in an unsavory way. The arresting 3-D works depict the children only from their waists to their mouths, and there is a jaundiced quality to these eerily dehumanized subjects that hints at pedophilia, or innocence deprived.

Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, another artist whose photographs are interesting, surprises the onlooker by placing current-day nude portraits of himself among relatives in old family snapshots.

In After Thanksgiving, a quirky Lambda Print, he appears in the background naked at the dinner table. In the foreground his aunt, who's dressed in a floral-print orange muumuu, and his parents sit on a couch posing for the picture. Elementary school-age Rodriguez-Casanova can also be seen.

Nuts depicts the awkwardly nude artist sandwiched between an uncle and a cousin in a crowded booth in a suburban kitchen. In the background, his grandmother cracks walnuts with a wooden mallet and smiles. These works appear part revisionist history and part self-reflective examination of his Cuban identity. Or maybe he's searching for a clean slate to reinvent himself while embracing his roots. Whatever his motivation, Rodriguez-Casanova knuckles one into feeling like a witness to some twitchy paparazzo's snatch and grab.

The exhibit also features pieces by Brad Kuhl, Maria Caridad Perez, and Jon Davis. These artists, who are repped by Jazzar, seem to have been shoehorned among more polished peers by the curator. Where the works of Salzinger, Koven, and Rodriguez-Casanova gel, offering conceptual content that is rich in sexual undertones and exactingly executed, the rest of the pack appears flaccid by comparison.

 
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