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Bright lights in dark corners: Fairytales, Fantasy, & Fear

Brave the woods to visit this wicked exhibit

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Comic fear and faux trembling await any soul brave enough to set foot into the Gorelick Galleries on the third floor of the Mint Museum Uptown. Fairytales, Fantasy, & Fear is not a Halloween horror house, or a vertiginous plunge into the morbid, grisly and grotesque. There's more Munsters here than monsters; but there is something wicked — wicked funny, wicked clever and just flat wicked weird.

A few steps into the gallery, I'm surrounded by a polypropylene forest, fabricated by Brit artist Tom Price. White tubular roots splay on the hardwood gallery floor, then rise and twist into serpentine tree trunks, and rise again and spread to branches overhead. From the outstretched branches, circular polypropylene petals sprout within hand's reach; hundreds more are strewn on the hardwood forest floor. It's the first step into a children's book of fairy tales, but brighter and less bloody. More like a Kindle than a book. Books sometimes smell funny.

"Stay Out of My Closet," by Mattia Biagi, is a wiry, 6-foot wolf standing in a pleated, blue checkered skirt, his head covered with a bright red shawl. He carries a wicker picnic basket dripping with shiny black gelatinous tar. The tar drips from the wolf's emaciated human hands and arms, and more tar drips in long black saliva strands from his oversized canines in his wide open black maw. Biagi's is the only potentially terrifying piece here; seen in a dark room, in an alley, or standing on the shoulder of I-85, he'd be cause for seizure or car wreck. On the gallery floor, he's a sticky wolf in Riding Hood's clothes. And there's a moral here ... something ... Watch out for wolves in little girls' clothing?

Mark Newport hand knits superhero costumes. Three hang from the walls here — "Batman 3," "Ribbed" and "Sweaterman" — as if hanging from coat hangers, awaiting Batman or Sweaterman to get out of the shower, wiggle into them and spring to action. Empty and limp, they look bereft on the museum wall; they exude exhaustion or impotence; they are alone, immobile, flaccid. The costumes wait for the man. The man stands naked in the shower. Each is ordinary without the other; one mere decoration, the other mere man. You complete me.

Nick Cave's "Soundsuit 2007" is a man in a knitted, psychedelic and sequined bodysuit with his head wrapped in a birdcage festooned with flowers. His whole body is beaded and embroidered with gorgeous, vibrant, glittery stones. Roses, tulips, daffodils and golden fronds orbit and conceal his caged head. His boots are form fitted black stockings wrapped with silver serpentine leaf and vine stitching. This is what Elton John should have been wearing at the end of his yellow brick road. Fabulous.

I noticed a few parents steering their kids away from one small piece here. "Free Market," by Justin Novak, is a terra cotta vignette of three lumpy men hunched over a dining table eating a fellow man. The poor meal-man's midsection is ripped open, and the three diners fight over the viscera, pulling entrails with sharp teeth through masks wrapped around their faces. The masks hide the identities of the free market consumers, making them nameless and common and, by dint of their complicit misdeed, blameless. The whole scene — figures, table, chairs — is dusty brown, except the shiny, gooey, bright red center.

Lisa Clague's "Inner World" is a woman's torso with two masked heads; one mimics the head of an ass, the other a ewe (I think). The torso's severed forearms hold a small pink rabbit with bulging eyes. The bunny's body surface is lumpy, his ears are pocked and barnacled, and he's scared stiff. The ass and ewe torso sports a scant wire see-through tutu. The ewe smiles through human lips and feral teeth at her terrified bunny with adoration. Her neck mate, the ass, looks contented and sated. The surface of the torso is crackled and crazed ceramic, and a joy to pore over.

"Face Jug," by Peter Lenzo, wins my "If all the museum lights went out and all the others museum goers froze in place, this is the piece I would run out the door with" prize. This jug is a bust of a man's head covered with objects of desire and dreams, fantasies and fears. Horses and elephants, a mannequin doll with a broken neck, skulls, tea kettles, a supplicant hand sprouting from the spout, a 12-armed deity, a cat, an eyeless infant, a cardinal, a tortoise and a woman bent backward, supine and wanton over the spout of a tiny tea kettle. There's enough here to keep my psychiatrist happy for a year. The face on the jug smiles a slight and prideful smile. "Face Jug" is an accretion of dream state souvenirs, a diary of many nights' travels beautifully chronicled in stoneware.

I exit the show through the same spindly forest I braved to get here. My concrete path is serpentine, strewn with polypropylene petals and covered with low hanging branches. At the entry, I follow an impulse and turn, to walk through again — I might have missed something.

It's better the second time through.

(The exhibit Fairytales, Fantasy, & Fear will be on display through July 8 at the Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. For more information, go to www.mintmuseum.org).

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