Observations by John Mendelsohn
The impulse to tell the truth through images is at least as old as the story of Moses interpreting the dream of Pharaoh. When Moses foretold the great change that was coming to Egypt, he spoke truth to power in the language of metaphor. Similarly, Alex Wagman creates sculptures whose surreal and poetic images strive to tell the truth about human nature, as expressed in the realms of both private and political behavior.
Over the past decade, Wagman has created ongoing series of bronze sculptures, grouped around specific themes. "The Performers" include a group of commedia dell'arte jesters, including "Trickster" made in 2001. Benign in appearance, he beckons the viewer to his playful antics. But the trickster is, as well, an archetypal figure who misleads as he amuses, revealing to us life's underside. In his role as jester, he uses ridicule to show the king his folly. In "Charlatan", we see the jester as con man, ready for the next sucker.
In "Countdown Celebration", we glimpse Wagman's mordant view of aging through the figure of an older man celebrating his birthday. But instead of a cake, the man holds a time bomb with a lit candle. Here in a three-dimensional caricature is the absurdity of marking our dwindling days, captured with a sense of both dread and humor. This piece exemplifies Wagman's take on the vagaries of the human condition, from the plight of beggars to the extremity of mental distress. He refuses to turn away from anything that is human, and sees with a keen eye the self-deception and fatuousness that perpetually dog us. In this respect, Wagman shows his kinship with art's sharp and witty observers of modern life in all its venality, including Daumier, Otto Dix, and George Grosz.
In the "Mindset" series, we are essentially witnessing human nature in private, its psychic struggles expressed through bizarre occurrences. In "Overflow", a man, with his face sagging and introspective, seems ordinary enough, but for the top of his skull split open, spilling out troubled thoughts in the form of many small spheres. In Wagman's most recent works, the figures literally go public with gestures of contempt.
In the "Mockery" series, the private becomes political in bitingly funny and outraged images that comment directly on this country's wartime leadership. Beyond their topical critique, in these images of the great leader as befuddled "Chicken Hawk" or strutting "Liberator", Wagman with loving care creates all-to-human images of egos inflated to proportions nearly beyond this satirist's considerable powers of depiction
- John Mendelsohn
John Mendelsohn has written articles and reviews on contemporary art for Cover Magazine, ArtNet Magazine, and The Jewish Week, as well as essays for exhibition catalogues. He taught at Illinois State University and the University of South Florida, and he currently teaches in the Studio Art Program at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He has contributed entries to the forthcoming book, A Dictionary of Symbolic Images, to be published by the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism at the C.G. Jung Institute, New York.