Dunham Aurelius: Ruminative Figures, Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, 435 S. Guadalupe St., 505-982-8111; through Dec. 27
There is nothing pleasant about the work of sculptor Dunham Aurelius, but that is not to say Ruminative Figures is not a worthwhile show. Far from it. Aurelius has elevated grotesquerie to a high art form, relishing in the roughness of shape and material. There are enough touches in the works on display to suggest that Aurelius isn’t forgoing refinement and finish out of lack of know-how but rather to bring raw anguish to his work.
Taking up nearly the entire first floor of Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Ruminative Figures offers a wide range of works by Aurelius on a number of themes. One is business — not in a general sense but the type of business dealing directly with finances. Several pieces, such as Hedge Fund Manager and Hedge Fund Assistant, reflect this. The latter is a small-scale sculpture that resembles a little devil. The Hedge Fund Manager is a skeletal figure whose wiry arms seem to reach out in greed.
Aurelius clearly draws on contemporary themes, and his work is figurative but abstracted. Primitivism and tribal influences are present. South Seas Woman, for instance, suggests influence by Oceanic art, while other sculptures reference totemism. A few hybrid forms appear neither completely human nor completely bestial. One gets the impression that Aurelius is showing the true face behind rosy facades, the ugliness lurking within people.
The work is not easy to digest. The faces on his figures are almost always pained, as though they are writhing forms attempting to break free from their rusted metal bonds. The One That Got Away is a curious piece, a twisted phalanx of rebar reaching up from a boxy, clinging mass of metal and wood. The One That Got Away is not as figurative as many of the other pieces. Aurelius sculpts a number of bulbous head forms using different mediums. His wood sculptures are rough-hewn, as though the artist sculpted them using an axe or saw. Bronze works are more amorphous but still retain a sense not of solidity but of a viscous massing of material.
There’s a sense of tremendous sorrow coming through these pieces, as though each one is a browbeaten animal looking for a way out of its own tortured skin. His Flight Series is a good example. The piece, a triptych, can be read as three long panels of vertebrae along a spinal column, but these vertebrae also resemble winged figures, angels, or airplanes. Running of the Bulls and its counterpart, Running of the Bulls Hanging, are also suggestive of internal body parts, particularly intestines, but they have a podlike, vegetal appearance, as well. I don’t understand the reference to the Spanish tradition of running with the bulls, but Aurelius may be likening the twisted routes and turns, the crowd moving through packed narrow streets, to the human digestive process.
Ruminative Figures is a macabre menagerie, but that shouldn’t keep you away. It’s a solid body of work, consistent in its themes and consistent with Aurelius’ aesthetic concerns. He does not seem interested in crafting something beautiful or decorative but has a broader artistic vision. If the poetic term mortal coil doesn’t come to mind when you’re viewing this show, you’re probably missing the point.