Exhibit at UK offers brutal look at life


By David Minton
Herald-Leader contributing art critic

If you are going to see "Regeneration/Prediction" at the University of Kentucky's Center for Contemporary Art, be forewarned that this is not the typical Lexington fare. Judith Page's paintings and painted sculptures could be called X-rated, not because they are obscene, but because they are as explicitly brutal, on the whole, as art can get.

Pain, torture and bondage are expressed in no uncertain terms throughout the exhibit. In one arrangement of sculptures, a bald woman is laid out on a painted mat, spread-eagle and immobile, under what seems to be a whirling tornado. In her upturned palms are painted coins (left hand) and golf tees (right hand). Turquoise 20-centime pieces have been placed on her eyes.

The figure appears to be frozen in the act of falling through space, bound invisibly to motion rather than by physical bonds to a ground surface. It is a sophisticated metaphor, and the rest of the show works to complicate as well as clarify it, forming finally a coherent, lucid, extremely personal assessment of life in the material realm.

The terms are not always human. Seven bunches of plastic grapes on seven golden platters have been mutilated in one way or another: pierced with needles, stabbed with nails (from within as well as from without), and bound with thread and strips of torn cloth. On the platters the words "It Hurts, It Hurts" have been scratched, over and over again.

One feels like a spectator in a chamber of horrors, surrounded by canvases with spikes lining the borders like armor, a row of heads on a table with nails in eyes and sticks jabbed into ears, and images of beauty consciously defiled. But the bizarre nature of things in the exhibit is enticing to the senses. One wants to look around. Then one begins to wonder about the meanings behind all of this. Is it about humiliation? Sadism? Is it supposed to be funny?

The show seems to be about humans as spiritual creatures encased in physical bodies in a physical universe. Tormenting limitations are part of our natural condition; human beings must be continually involved in a process of dealing with the resultant pain and inadequacy. In a piece called "Novice," the figure's halo is half black, half gold. It is in the process of lighting itself, suggesting that the subject is still being educated. The trade this apprentice is learning is life.

But to say that there is any single message or statement here would be wrong. Crosses and Christian symbolisms are persistently, mixed into the work, injecting it with questions about the regenerative qualities in suffering, which could possibly lead to some kind of salvation.

Some of the paintings work together to bring to mind images of ancient Rome, adding a barely perceptible undercurrent of festivity, which hints at debauchery.
If there is a single idea behind the show, like all metaphoric expressions, it is open-ended. The exact meaning cannot be grasped in its entirety. One can only put together certain aspects of a comprehensive, far-reaching meaning by taking each piece of work separately and letting the individual truths accumulate.

Page's work is genuinely expressionistic, insofar as expressionism is an outlook rather than a style marked by particular physical characteristics. She does what she has to do to convey the ideas essential to the whole picture being projected. Details and symbols are set out so that they build to a cumulative effect, as in a novel.

The depth of the show is striking, and the devastating and accurate visualization of the human condition will most definitely present a thinking person with a challenge.

"Regenerat ion/Prediction " will continue at the Center for Contemporary Art, UK Fine Arts Building on Rose Street, through Oct. 26. Gallery hours are 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays.