Arts Magazine: In the Balance

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

In The Balance: Two Minnesota artists present ideas about society and culture through their original characters

The beauty of life can be veiled, even shrouded. Two contemporary artists, Davora M. Lindner and Margo Selski, contend with the veil, revealing the magic of love and suffering where art and life intersect. “In the Balance,” an exhibition of their new and recent figurative works, open in the Cargill Gallery July 8 as part of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP).

The exhibition features Lindner’s theatrical displays of ceramic puppets, statuettes, and a stop-frame animation, and Selski’s series of oil paintings.

Significant parallels unite these artists. While both have created discrete bodies of work, each is personally invested in her art. Both artists present themselves through the characters they create, and these characters comfort and protect their makers. Each artists has invented a special world populated by these characters.

Lindner is a sculptor and video artist whose work reflects an obsessive relationship with the body and gender. The doll or puppet has been her primary vehicle for expression since 1998. Lindner is most interested in dealing with a continuum of gender. Her puppets are decidedly feminine, ranging from very powerful women of film, such as fashion designers Halston and Yves St. Laurent, and doll chronicler A. Glen Mandeville. These are clearly Lindner’s heroes.

By appropriating the doll or puppet, Lindner extends the formidable artistic tradition of transforming ordinary objects and associations into the extraordinary. Lindner channels the doll zeitgeist, with all its energy of relationship to address the viewer. Lindner’s puppets read with an amazing breadth and depth of emotion, resonating with tragedy, tenderness, or supreme ferocity. Their unclothed, austere presentation underscores both their vulnerability and their strength. For the artist, the portraits are like “battered boxers,” reflecting a lifetime of blows.

Working in reference to her own body, photographs, or her imagination, Lindner hand-builds her figures to be roughly Barbie-doll size, but with bigger heads. She creates their hollow figures with articulated joints from a variety of clay bodies. Her materials include stoneware, earthenware, and raku (her favorite, for the surfaces it yields once its fired). Lindner creates each one-of-a-kind character over many weeks or months; then fires and glazes and re-fires the ceramics, finally hand-brushing each with china paint to achieve her meticulous surface detail.

Lindner’s work makes a powerful statement about our culture’s notions of gender identity, something problematic for many people. Until we become more expansive or inclusive as a culture, artists like Lindner, the beautiful battered boxer, will provide space for us to be completely ourselves.

Selski is painter whose signature style draws from the Flemish masters. Throughout her life she has seen the world through a looking-glass of extreme dyslexia. Since childhood, Selski has relied on her fertile imagination to reconcile the differences between what she sees and what she needs to know. Despite these challenges, Selski served for eight years as an elementary teacher, and in 1998, earned her master’s degree in fine art with an emphasis on painting.

During graduate school, Selski worked in a very conceptual realm, dealing in particular with the literal concealment of information. She made countless small paintings, layering image over image, in an extended kinesthetic mediation on dyslexia.

In 1999, Selski experienced a major transformation. She gave birth to her first son and found herself at home with a baby who cried with colic from six to eight hours a day. Selski got busy painting and in her “sleep-deprived state, the Northern Flemish quite spontaneously appeared,” she says.

She looks especially to Jan Vermeer and Petrus Christus for inspiration, borrowing from their works a variety of motifs and compositional devices. To reconcile her own pictorial strategies with their influence, Selski works through hundreds of small paintings, often creating theatrical architectural interiors that she appoints with ghost-like women in period dress.

The drama of Selski’s work has been compared to that of opera. Her extensive cast of characters include Hen Woman, Flora, Fauna (the wolfgirl), the Weeping Queen, the White Queen, and the infant Sirens. They play out aspects of her own memory or persona, through real or mythic scenarios that lead the viewer through a maze of awareness, ambiguity, and melancholia.

Working intuitively, Selski has hybridized her Flemish influences with Surrealist concerns, blending in personal narrative to create a body of work addressing motherhood, the illusion of history and perception, and a search for stability and love in a precarious world.

Cynde Randall is an artist and program associate for the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program, an artist-run Curatorial department of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is made possible by generous support from the Jerome Foundation, in celebration of the Jerome Hill Centennial and in recognition of the valuable cultural contributions of artists to society.

Work in this exhibition is made possible in part by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Davora M. Lindner is recipient of a 2002 Bush Artist Fellowship.

Citation: Cynde Randall, “In The Balance: Two Minnesota artists present ideas about society and culture through their original characters,” Arts 28, No. 4 (July/August 2005): 18-19.