Love it or hate it, you gotta see this ‘hybrid’ sculpture in Morristown

ROLL OVER, BEETHOVEN! Jamie Levine with her 'Unknown Composer,' the creepy hit of the new 'Rites of Spring' exhibition in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
ROLL OVER, BEETHOVEN! Jamie Levine with her 'Unknown Composer,' the creepy hit of the new 'Rites of Spring' exhibition in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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If they held an art expo on The Island of Dr. Moreau, Jamie Levine’s Unknown Composer would take Best In Show honors, hands-down.

Make that, chicken-feet down.

ROLL OVER, BEETHOVEN! Jamie Levine with her 'Unknown Composer,' the creepy hit of the new 'Rites of Spring' exhibition in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
ROLL OVER, BEETHOVEN! Jamie Levine with her 'Unknown Composer,' the creepy hit of the new 'Rites of Spring' exhibition in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

As it was, the sculpture depicting the head of a handsome young man in a blond Beethoven goat-hair wig grafted onto the anatomically correct body of a hairless Brussels Griffon dog (correct, that is, except for the chicken feet) was the talk of Wednesday’s reception for Rites of Spring, a show running through Aug. 21, 2013, at Morristown’s Gallery at 14 Maple.

“It creeped me out,” admitted Cheryl Ehrgott of Ledgewood.

Which was pretty much the reaction to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring ballet at its Paris debut a century ago, according to accounts of that era. The Maple Avenue exhibition, hosted by Morris Arts, is a nod to that revolutionary work and the New York Armory show of 1913, which shook up the art world.

“We wanted to honor that spirit of innovation,” said Jeanne Brasile, curator of the Morristown show and director of the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University. “We’re reaching into historical themes, paying homage by looking forward and looking back 100 years ago, to see the freedom we have because of Marcel Duchamp and Stravinsky.”

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That includes the freedom for Sarah Fattori to mix paints when she’s not mixing drinks as a bartender at Tashmoo in Morristown, and squirt those oils through a syringe into spirochetic patterns on a canvas. (As in spirochetes. Google it.)

Another of the 36 artists in the show, Eva Han, has shaken up the art world in China with sketches and acrylic paintings she created at the Wellness, Arts & Enrichment Center of West Orange. Eva has refused to let a developmental disability impede her muse, attracting attention in the Chinese press, said Eva’s mother, Alice Han.

For Jamie Levine,  meanwhile, the trip down Vivisection Lane was a perfectly logical career path for a realtor in Short Hills.

“I just started this two years ago,” she said of her sculpting. “I was in real estate for 30 years. I did very well. But I am an artist. I didn’t want to be in the real estate business.”

You could say she felt cooped up.

So it’s no surprise that chicken coops figure prominently in her artistic advancement. Closing in on a master’s degree in fine arts at Montclair State University, she imported a bunch of hens into a coop she built at the school for a midterm project.

The hens wore necklaces to combat depression, making a statement about the therapeutic power of art.  The project included a manifesto about depressed chickens. (It was adapted from a thick journal by the American Medical Association, in which Jamie systematically replaced the word “children” with “chickens.”)

We were afraid to ask about the origins of the chicken toes on Unknown Composer.

Jamie assured us, however, that the amazingly life-like head is only a reproduction and there is, in fact, an amazingly life-like young composer still roaming concert halls in bi-pedal mode.

Her model, a “close family member,” recently recorded a fusion album of jazz and folk music–making him a “hybrid” composer suitable for Jamie’s off-beat re-imagining.

“My practice focuses on exploring the future world of hybrids, and what that might look like,” Jamie explained. “I get my inspiration from contemporary bio-engineering experiments.”

Don’t think we would want to cross her.

Yet the Unknown Composer was strangely appealing. Despite being creeped out, Cheryl Ehrgott, could not take her eyes off of him/it.

“He looked so real. I had to touch it,” she said. “I wanted to kiss his lips.”

 The ‘Rites of Spring’ show is free and open to the public Mondays-Fridays from 10 am to 4pm, and by appointment.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The show was amazing, so many beautiful works of art. Jamie Levine’s Unknown Composer was so intriguing that I went back and visited it three times!

  2. Every once in a while someone enters an exhibition with a piece so bizarre that it cannot be ignored. The sort of surprise that makes your day. Jamie certainly did that with ‘Unknown Composer’!

  3. Jamie Levine- amazing artist, amazing person!
    Thank you so much for this great article. for many more..

  4. I marvel at how you always capture the essence of an evening in the wonderful way you share people’s stories in your articles and pictures! Kevin, you have a great gift of making us laugh, cry, and feel connected. Thank you!

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