There’s some new non-fiction near the checkout desk of the Tacoma Public Library downtown. It’s about eight feet high, has chunky wooden bones, barrel-stave skin and a sense of humor that’ll hit you over the head with a toy sword as you walk in. It’s “The New and Improved Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” and with it Tacoma artist Otto Youngers achieves what few sculptors ever do – seriously funny work.
The Horsemen, with plywood hooves prancing, skulls laughing in glee and horns blowing in the wind, are part of Youngers’ solo show “The Natural History of the Surreal,” a larger-than-life all-wood show of sculpture and two-dimensional work that, like the best surreal art, actually says a whole lot more about reality. Around by the teen reading lounge, for instance, is “Queque,” a wooden checkerboard about the size of a small room that’s roped into a waiting line. Enormous wooden shoes – some strappy, some pointy, high heels and boots – wait patiently, airport-style. There’s one problem – the ropes are completely fencing them in, with no entry or exit, a bit like an endless Escher print come to life.
Up in the Handforth Gallery are most of the rest of Youngers’ works, and they’ll all make you smile. In one corner a headless skeleton rests on a stool, a bony fish in each hand. Dinner? Opposite him is a guy with flesh on his bones – a barrel chest, but no neck – and an air of complete bewilderment. In a third corner is an ironic collection of human parts: a skull, a rib cage, some shoes, and a Dali-esque pair of lips perched on a weird branch.
In the middle of the gallery is another checkerboard room, with giant dragonfly skeletons dive-bombing the floor. Some attempt to stare at miniature burnt-etched wooden portraits, others just flounder with arms – arms? – beside tiny coffee tables. The expression of their skewed limbs and earnest heads is hilarious.
More burn-etchings hang on the walls, but this isn’t where Youngers is at his best. His noir cartoon style is a visual assault of images that take on much more clarity in three dimensions – and much more humor too.
And don’t forget to go upstairs, where you’ll see the “USS Miss Fitz,” three gun-staring soldiers armed with medieval swords and Crusader crosses, packed with their horse into a rinky-dink sailboat.
Youngers’ carving is chunky, his sculpture almost casual. But their gestures are defiantly human – quizzical, laughing, despairing – amid the surreal assemblage of their world. And if you can walk into the library, look at those assemble-it-yourself Horsemen and not laugh, then maybe you need to check out some Monty Python videos on your way out.
Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Free. Tacoma Public Library main branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S, Tacoma. 253-292-2001, tacomapubliclibrary.org
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org