Above: Install of Body Language.
Body Language: Hunter Stamps and Mike Goodlett
Body Language: Hunter Stamps and Mike Goodlett at the University of Kentucky Art Museum brings together two artists who have long explored the body in their practices, creating sculptures that evoke organs, orifices, and fleshy folds. Stamps and Goodlett allow just enough room for the viewer to bring their own associations and memories when experiencing their work, demonstrating the shared visual language of human form. Our familiarity with this vocabulary, however, provides ample opportunities for the artists to twist and challenge the viewer’s expectations regarding the body, gender, and humanity.
One of the first works viewers encounter is Stamps’s ochre-colored Willendorf (2019) which feels like an appropriate introduction to the exhibit. By referencing the Venus of Willendorf through the name, color, and voluptuous folds of skin, this piece speaks to our shared ancestry, humanity, and physicality. Some of his ceramic pieces, such as Willendorf, merely suggest flesh and organs, while others are more literal in their reference to the body. Utterance (2019) and Space Within (2019) show another side of this physicality, but one the viewer is not always ready to confront. Many of Stamps’s sculptures utilize red glazes, texture, and encaustic to translate the inside to the outside with eerie accuracy. As the viewer stands in front of these works, they are met with the inner workings of their bodies, and thus their corporal fragility and mortality. It is this very ambiguity that gives his works their strength. Swell (2019), for example, is indeterminate at first glance, leaving viewers to contemplate their bodily makeup in ways they would not otherwise. Exploring the tension between recognition and alienation, the Rorschachian forms leave the viewer to question what they see and, more importantly, the underlying associations they carry.
Goodlett similarly embraces ambiguity in his practice, creating sculptures that exist in a strange liminal state. The artist uses spandex as a mold to cast hydrostone into indeterminate shapes that can be read as phalluses, sea creatures, children’s toys, and other corporeal forms. As a side effect of this unique process, thin, staccato lines and folds appear on the finished piece as ghosts of the fabric that once housed them. These details heighten the work’s complexity and summon the feeling of “What exactly am I looking at?”
Goodlett is at his most successful when he fully embraces this indeterminate state, such as in The Eyes of Laura Mars (2019). These two small sculptures are placed low on the floor so that the viewer may easily peer into pursed orifices that face upwards. The pair’s appearance simultaneously recalls phallus and yoni, child’s toy and sex toy, insect and human. When he approaches more deliberate representation, however, the work falls flat. Call the Plumber (2019) feels more like a punchline than an enigmatic artwork, while Sphinx (2018) and Bastet (2018) are immediately readable as cats and seems out of place in the context of the exhibition. Furthermore, the artist’s use of bare concrete, which is decipherable in ways the painted hydrostone is not, removes some of the mystery.
Each artists’ work performs gender in radically different ways. Stamps molds clay into forms evocative of flesh, skin, and organs, but his sculptures cannot be read as any particular gender. On the other hand, objects readable as genitalia proliferate throughout Goodlett’s work; his playful sculptures blur the lines between orifice and phallus, often recalling both simultaneously. In Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, author Judith Butler writes, “Regulatory norms of ‘sex’ work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body’s sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative.” The way that many link the body, sex, and gender is inherently limiting and cisnormative, but alternate models are helpful in unveiling the arbitrary way gender has been historically constructed. By utilizing ambiguity, opacity, and dualism in their practices, the artists present bodies that do not conform to rigid binarism and speak to Art’s ability to provide alternate perspectives.
While both Stamps and Goodlett have moments where their work shines, the installation of Body Language does a disservice to the artists. There are a large number of works in the exhibit, resulting in little space for the individual sculptures to breathe. The sheer amount of pedestals on the floor creates an effect more akin to a busy history museum than a contemporary art space. The installation is most effective when it gets off the ground, such as in Stamps’s four wall pieces. By separating the artists’ work, the curator has created the effect of two solo exhibitions rather than a cohesive whole—moments of interplay between Stamps and Goodlett would have further cemented their conceptual connection. I hope that the two continue to show work together; an exhibition such as Body Language showcases artists who are working through similar content and represents a microcosm of Lexington’s art scene. This particular installation, however, fails to lend the finesse that Stamps and Goodlett deserve and perhaps need to be experienced fully.
Body Language: Hunter Stamps and Mike Goodlett is on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum until April 19th, 2020.
The University of Kentucky Art Museum is located at 405 Rose St, Lexington, KY 40508, and has the latest information about their openings and closings related to the COVID-19 crisis on their website.
- University of Kentucky Art Museum
- Hunter Stamps
- Mike Goodlett
- Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011.
Managing Editor, Contributor to Ruckus
Hunter Stamps, Swell (2019), ceramic. Photo by Mary Rezny, courtesy of the artist.
Hunter Stamps, Willendorf (2019), ceramic. Photo by Mary Rezny, courtesy of the artist.
Hunter Stamps, Utterance (2019), ceramic, encaustic, and rubber. Photo by Mary Rezny, courtesy of the artist.
Hunter Stamps, Space Within (2019), ceramic and encaustic. Photo by Mary Rezny, courtesy of the artist.
Mike Goodlett, The Eyes of Laura Mars (2019), hydrostone and paint. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Mike Goodlett, Left: Sphinx (2018), hydrostone, concrete, paint, textile band, and glass. Right: Bastet (2018), hydrostone, concrete, and paint. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Mike Goodlett, Call the Plumber (2019), hydrostone, concrete, and paint. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky Art Museum.