Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ram

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Ever since it opened a year and a half ago, 21c Museum Hotel downtown has been an item on hip couples’ date-night agendas. Not just because it has a fabulous bar and restaurant (it does), but also because no matter how wee the hour, you can still go there, see art, and come away with plenty to talk about. The show that’s just been launched is no exception.

Hybridity: The New Frontier is a collection of works that explore the way earth and its creatures are being “hybridized” and shaped by artificial forces. The images are, by turns, surreally disturbing, mysteriously romantic, and flat-out fascinating. Just try to pull yourself away from Oleg Dou’s Fawn, a portrait of a child photoshopped into an anthropomorphized deer; or Chris Doyle’s spectacular watercolor triptych The Larger Illusion, in which a minotaur’s head merges with a tree trunk in a tangled forest. Every scary lost-in-the-woods fantasy you ever had on a camping trip: it’s right there.

I predict that plenty of people will stand and study the elements in the photo assemblage of graffiti-plastered quarry walls (Empire Falling by Elena Dorfman). And given that it’s sitting in the front window, Patricia Piccinini’s sweet-sad-creepy Surrogate (For the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat)  may stop traffic.   

Curator Alice Gray Stites, in town for the opening, took me around the exhibition. Stites  says that the show comes here from 21c in Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was previously hanging, but with some new pieces added. “We morph each time,” a show is taken from one hotel to another, she says. That’s because all three 21c properties are physically different. And also because she may find a new piece of art that has something timely to say. What she has found in each city is that visitors (hotel guests and locals who come to view the art) are consistently up for a challenge. Her primary concern is that the art is good; she doesn’t really fret about whether or not it is accessible. “Your audience is always smarter than you think,” she says.

The work will be on display through the end of the year. And, since it’s in a hotel lobby, it’s open 24/7.

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