Marc Dennis’ current show, A Day in the Life, is bound to make you uncomfortable. The hyper-realistic paintings on display at Carl Hammer Gallery create unexpected juxtapositions—a skull resting on a pile of wide-eyed stuffed animals; a handgun surrounded by an evening bag, jewels and a pair of women’s shoes—provoking questions about the American relationship with beauty, decadence and power.
Do you have a pink throw pillow with a handgun stitched on it? To his own admission, Dennis likes to set up opposites and to play with dichotomies. In Little Ways, the handgun throw pillow and house cat resting on a bearskin rug—the bear’s jaw is wide open, but completely benign—remove all violence from the image. This sterilization of violence continues in other works like The Mystery of the Cartoon Rabbit, in which a rabbit’s carcass rests on a pristine and glistening butcher’s scale. There is no blood, no gore, no sense at all of the “mess” involved in the butchering process, and you’re left to consider the beauty and sensuousness of the objects themselves, and the unsettling sense that the rabbit’s carcass is rather reminiscent of the female form.
It is easy to assume that Dennis is looking to Caravaggio and Rembrandt. He is a meticulous draftsman, and these carefully studied still lifes are enticingly detailed and rich. But there is also more than a hint of Manet here, particularly in Night Out, which is set up like a modern distillation of A Bar at the Folies Bergère. The cat stares directly at the viewer, bored and unamused, like Manet’s barmaid. The disco ball hangs in midair like the giant glowing lamps reflected in the bar’s mirror and in playful twist, again layering on the Art History, a Jeff Koons’ platinum rabbit pendant stands in the for Manet’s mirror. This very present moment, weighs heavy with the past—perhaps a suggestion that opulence and decadence do not exist without consequence.
Throughout the entire show, you’re likely to be tempted to touch the art. The highly rendered and very detailed objects appear so real you may think for a moment to reach in and grab the gun or run your hand over the smooth top of the skull. This nearly tactile breakdown between the image and life begs the question, is this your fantasy? Humans are completely absent from the work, leaving the scenario wide open for the viewer to step in, slip on the shoes, grab the gun and…
Marc Dennis’ A Day in the Life is on view through June 2, 2012. Carl Hammer Gallery is located at 740 North Wells. For more information, visit their website.
Mary E. DeYoe is a poet and freelance art writer. She lives in Chicago.