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Max Streicher, "Mammatus," 2006, Tyvek and fans, collection of the artist.
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Max Streicher, "Mammatus," Tyvek and fans, detail.
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Oct. 28, 2006 - March, 2007
By Amy Karlinsky
The 1960s gave us Pop Art and Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Hamburger (1962), a sculpture that remains an icon of mass-marketed consumer goods gone soft. Oldenburg’s early work, however, was a foam-stuffed construction. The first inflatable soft sculpture imprinted in my memory is from I Shot Andy Warhol, a theatrical release that mimics archival footage taken at Warhol’s Factory. In the wee hours of the morning, following a night of excess, a pillow-shaped, silver inflatable is released into the gritty streets of Manhattan. It floats away.
Floating, inflating, transforming, mutating — these are all possibilities inspired by playing with density, weightlessness, gravity, containers, and an air-tight seal. Instead of celebrating the lowbrow vernacular of advertising, Max Streicher has spent the past 15 years exploring the lyrical and baroque versions of inflatable soft sculpture. Some of his floating sculptures lend emphasis to architecture, others exploit the poetry of the gargantuan object and its miniscule origins. What goes up eventually must come down. Filled with air, each sculpture embodies its own future demise. This is part of the wonder and fascination in looking at a Streicher inflatable. Often site-specific, his horses, giants, clouds or clown faces resonate with nearby architectural features or a page from local social history. Moreover, Streicher’s inflatables do not simply reside in space; they animate, rustle, and move. Industrial fans attached to the sculptures create subtle shifts in air pressure that lend the bodies their human, animal, or natural affect.
Using lightweight materials such as Tyvek or nylon, he engages ideas about space and gravity, weight and weightlessness, inside and outside, skin and substance. Blow, installed in the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina last year, comprised two connected bodies in varying states of inhalation and exhalation. The body, we know, is a breathing apparatus, but when confronted by a Streicher inflatable, we feel the breath and the autonomous nervous systems of the body ever more acutely.
Streicher’s upcoming project for the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s grand foyer Eckhardt Hall is Mammatus, an inflatable sculpture previously installed at Museum London. “It is magical, full of deformations, divisions and magnifications, embodying our desires and even our romantic reveries,” Winnipeg Art Gallery curator Mary Reid writes. The installation is enhanced by a publication co-produced by the Gallery and Museum London, with essays by Reid, Jeanne Randolph, and Melanie Townsend.
The Latin word mammatus is a meteorological term describing a cloud that is suspended in a curved form between two points. Streicher’s Mammatus consists of bodies and clouds, echoing 17th-century palace ceilings decorated with fluffy clouds and winged putti — the aerial darlings of the ceiling set of questionable morality.
Streicher was born in Alberta and is a founding member of the Nethermind, a Toronto-based artists’ collective that organized exhibitions between 1991 and 1995. His inflatable sculptures have been shown across Canada and in Austria, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Israel, and the Czech Republic. He says he is fond of clouds. “My first cloud was made for the Tannenbaum Sculpture Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004. It was inspired by a memory of flying through clouds in a small airplane and having the sense of being part of a Tiepolo painting. In ceiling painting since Correggio, clouds have allowed subjects to break free of gravity and [from] the grounding of single-point perspective and the confines of bricks and mortar.”