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Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey

March 30, 2013 - September 1, 2013

michael combs 21c

PRESS RELEASE – 21c Museum Hotel announces a new exhibition titled Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey. Curated by Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming for 21c Museum Hotels,Wild Card charts Michael Combs’ multi-media, fifteen-year exploration of gender identity and cultural mythology, as experienced and expressed in both personal rites of passage and within the history of group behavior. The exhibition will open at 21c Louisville on March 30 and will be on view through September 2013.

Stites notes, “This exhibition is emblematic of 21c’s continued support of visionary artists as they develop. We presented Michael’s work in Louisville’s opening show in 2006 and are proud to present this comprehensive look at his career today. Our goal continues to be to bring today’s most exciting contemporary art to the public and to push the boundaries of how people engage with and experience art.”

A native of Long Island, New York, Combs was raised by generations of hunters, fishermen, boat builders and decoy makers. Instead of becoming an avid hunter, Combs developed a passion for preservation and an interest in the vanity of gaming sports. His carefully crafted works call on his vast knowledge of the trade, while examining man’s competitive nature and the attendant need to seek validation through sex, discrimination, societal trophies, power and control. The use of 19th-century American trompe l’oeil tradition and the inclusion of everyday objects and clothing grounds Combs’ investigations in the present while revealing a complex legacy of meaning. The racing stripes on Combs’s Big Baller, 2004, for example, are not merely a contemporary fashionable embellishment: the origin of the racing stripe was to provide the driver with a swift reference to calibrate passing distance, allowing him to be the victor, to win the race. Both a skilled craftsman and a witty conceptualist, Combs dissects this urge to win, and calculates its costs.

Other works such as Heavy Bag, 2012 and How the West Won, 2012 employ hand-carved linden wood or found materials, such as Lincoln Logs, crocodile skin, animal antlers, shotgun shells, foul weather gear, rubber cladding, antique bedpans, and other appropriated elements, referencing a broad spectrum of American history and popular culture alluding to masculine icons such as Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt. These works and others examine another common boyhood obsession, and reference the mythology of the American West within the context of sports rivalry. Combs’ equipment-art both illuminates and subverts the construction of gender identity, while as the artist says, creating a reminder that “sometimes it’s best to be all that you can’t be.”

In addition to five works from the 21c collection, the exhibition also includes loans from private collections and galleries as well as The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY. Combs’ work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States. A native of Long Island, New York, Combs earned his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He lives and works in New York City.


March 30, 2013
September 1, 2013
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21c Museum
700 West Main Street
Louisville, 40202
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