Depictions of skulls act almost like a portrait. Instead of an individualized visage, its lack of distinction and yet basic universality reveals the ubiquitous face of all humanity that encompasses everything about us; from our vast history to certain future. And, as the seat of the brain and primary location all five senses, it will retain its position as an object imbued with spiritual and even supernatural powers as well as a synecdoche of the whole body, a symbol of the lived human experience as well as the extinguishment of that existence. With this perspective in mind, Walnut Creek’s Bedford Gallery’s summer group art show, “The Skull Show” brings together multifarious interpretations, re-presentations, and appropriations of the human skull in an attempt to explore the role this universal, significant piece of anatomy has retained with its powerful symbolic properties. Artworks on view represent a wide variety of persons, groups, and cultures: from traditional memento mori and vanitas works, illustrated since art history’s very genesis, to global contemporary groups with a strong a visual culture, like skateboarders and tattooing.
Including artwork by 90 contemporary artists whose nationalities span the globe: from local Bay Area artists like Francesca Pastine to artist Frodo Mikkelsen from the Netherlands, London-based artist Magnus Gjoen, Lorenzo M. Durán from Spain, and Mexican artist Andres Basurto, the broad inclusion and curation of “The Skull Show” certainly lays the foundation to be a comprehensive international examination of the many visual traditional and contemporary meanings of and responses to the skull. The show also accomplishes its comprehensive endeavor by including sculpture, installation, and 2-dimensional arts made from a wide variety of material including wood, various metals, paper and glass, textiles even more esoteric materials like seeds and flowers. While the exhibition includes so many participants with few multiple artworks by the same artist, which may prohibit an audience’s access to a more personal interpretation by the artist difficult to relate, its wide variety reveals it is less about personal interpretations and more about examining larger, more significant themes as they are bonded by the commonality of the skull as object; a reflection of humanity certainly at least connected by their elemental physicality and corporeality. Carrie Lederer, curator of exhibitions and programs at the gallery, writes “As different as we all are, we are the same in fundamental ways — this is the underlying theme of ‘The Skull Show.’”
Of course, as many variants exist within the show, and broad inclusions and interpretations pervade, “The Skull Show” doesn’t attempt to evade that throughout each one of these particularly unique interpretations of the skull is the underlying, universal truth of the symbol of the skull itself, an understanding that these works are results of living beings reflecting upon their fundamental mortality, and are all at their core creative reactions towards some acknowledgment, however abstract, of death. The imagery of a bare skull will continue to be a poignant indicator of the ways in which humans bob and weave, attempt to make sense through either humor, poignant vigilance, or a macabre fascination of its grim forecast; whether it is Anthony Santella’s Transformations II whose wooden sculpture of a woman’s face opens to reveal a skull inside, Helen Altman’s installation of skulls covered in flowers, seeds, and plants that seem to signify humans’ elemental qualities parallel with nature’s most organic materials, or Quinn Gregory’s disco ball-like skull that even its hundreds of Swarovski crystals can’t hide a gaping nasal cavity or the jagged teeth of the decrepit skull underneath. Showing this complex duality of life within death, however, deftly illustrates, as many have previously related about the fascination with death, almost paradoxically a means of honoring life, as well as an earnest interest in the great mystery surrounding the impending transformation. “The Skull Show” reimagines that transformative nature appropriately through the skull.
“The Skull Show” will be at Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Drive Walnut Creek, through August 31.
Upcoming public programs include:
“Arts & Craft Beer” July 31 6-8pm, artists Ben Venom and Lucien Shapiro will lead a hands-on skull themed art project. Admission, $5.
“Make a Skull Family Day” August 2 1-3pm, artist Marc D’Estout will lead a project to make skull sculptures from clay, then decorate with a variety of materials. Includes skull jewelry and temporary skull tattoo stations. Free for children 12 & under; $3 for youth 13-17; $5 for adults.