Arts » Art

It's Alive

Bigfoot and his hairy girlfriend are chillin' with the Loch Ness Monster in Kansas City.


One hot summer night when I was 11 years old, I wandered alone in the field next to my parents' house. There, I saw a creature standing on its hind legs that was part raccoon and part fur-covered toddler. The animal ran away before I could figure out what the hell it was, but I've never forgotten it.

The wonderful Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale tells similar stories at the H&R Block Artspace. The show gathers artists who work within themes of, as the accompanying brochure puts it, "the quest for unknown, rumored, or hidden animals."

A towering Bigfoot stands at the entrance like a stern, stiff host —funny and fuzzy, a withered Afro hanging from his head, his face covered in full beard yet wearing an expression of rugged handsomeness. He's more than 10 feet tall, his fingers tense on oversized hands. Partly chewed antlers — remnants of his dinner — lay about his massive feet. The imposing figure, out of place in the cool gallery space, embodies an absurdity that sets the tone for the entire show.

Divided among the gallery's three rooms, the show consists of work by 18 artists in a variety of media. It resembles a history museum more than a traditional art gallery, combining the sense of serious intellectual pursuit with the fun of urban legends.

In the first room there's Robert Marbury's "Nardog," a horned, frosty-white beast snarling in a glass box. Sitting on its rump, the animal is small and cute but a little dangerous-looking. Fake snow collects on its matted fur and gathers on the stump and the ground, conveying its icy, isolated natural habitat. Nearby is Marbury's other "urban beast diorama," home to something he calls the "Greater Lesser Yeti," which is equally realistic.

Sean Foley's colorful "Lake Monster Habitat Diorama," made of wood, canvas and urethane panels, is a beautiful, imaginative rendering of a famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. The beast appears to be out for an evening swim under a full moon and white clouds of smoke, beside a volcanic mountain, escaping into the trees and the surrounding darkness.

Close by, photographs by Ellen Lesperance and Jeanine Oleson are strangely romantic. For their "Off the Grid" series, the artists cast themselves in the roles of Bigfoot and his lover, Nioka. Given only brief scenes, it's up to us to figure out the story.

In the next room, Jill Miller's "Waiting for Bigfoot: 51 Days in the Forest" has a solemn, slightly off-putting presence. Three projectors cast repeated scenes of a bird's-eye view of tree-covered mountains with a stream running through them. We sense that the fabled creature roams somewhere in the forest, waiting at any moment to disturb the tranquil picture with his labored footsteps.

The third room holds my favorite installation, Marc Swanson's haunted "Killing Moon." A lifelike, all-white man-beast walks a forest of emaciated, tiny black trees; the full moon is painted onto the door shape on the wall behind him. In his hands he carries bunches of fake dead rabbits. The primitive aspects feel immediate, the violence tangible.

In asking us to realize the goofy pleasure of studying these elusive animals, Cryptozoology indulges the imagination.

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