Fanstastic Journeys

Suzanne Klotz's multi-dimensional sculptures spin around long-held sexist myths.

Old vacuum cleaners, miniature statuary, lamps, beads and lace: Suzanne Klotz's constructions are so dense with objects and patterning that they are hard to take in at first. Many of them play music, and some of them spin. It's easy to like the constructions in Klotz's exhibition Promised Lands and the Netherworld at Muse--Tucson's Home for the Arts (formerly the International Arts Center) because they're great fun. There is something more than amusement beneath the surfaces, too.

Many of the constructions and sculptures explore people's dreams and expectations, typically in terms of loss. Three of Klotz's works are based on the ideal that every American girl learns: Someday I'm going to meet the perfect man, get married and live happily ever after.

"Some Day My Next Prince Will Come" is constructed of an 84-by-64-inch wall on wheels, so that a different work ("Lady in the Lost Room") can be created on the back. Constructed like a wallpapered wall with a window and niches, "Some Day My Next Prince Will Come" displays all the cute knick-knacks that symbolize girlhood: 10 ballerinas dancing, one lord and lady dancing, one poodle sitting and much, much more. On the floor one of Klotz's classic, collaged vacuum cleaners is topped by a gold man who spins to the tune of Raena Honan singing "Some Day My Prince Will Come." Look closely at the wall, and you'll see that the floral wallpaper is also printed with text from a divorce petition. This prince may not turn out to be a prince among men after all.

It's hard to hear Honan's lyrics because there's a tape of a woman sobbing and blowing her nose to the tune of Patsy Cline singing "Falling to Pieces" in the construction around the corner. Here love was lost while sitting on a Holstein cow-patterned sofa in a different world of romance. (This is one of the pieces where patterned cloth stands in for a profusion of stuff.)

A wonderful sculpture in the hallway presents an ironic perspective on what should be a pinnacle in the chronology of love. "Happily Ever After" has three tiers mounted on an old upright vacuum cleaner. On the top tier, a small statue of a bride and groom spins like a couple dancing on top of their wedding cake while the Blue Danube Waltz plays. The half-hidden can of Comet cleaner implies there might be something more to this "happily ever after" myth than having an expensive wedding and buying a house with a white picket fence (also attached to the artwork).

Women artists have been using decorative items and found objects from women's lives to explore feminist issues since the 1970s. Although Klotz is clearly interested in women's roles, some of her sculptures deal with other political and social issues. According to Muse's guest curator Nora Kuehl, on September 11 she and Klotz decided to remove her sculpture "Call to Prayer" from the exhibition. Kuehl said that even before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the artwork made viewers uncomfortable. After the attacks, she and Klotz were concerned about possible vandalism. "We were unsure of how people would react to the artwork itself ... . It's a sculpture addressing Israel's unlawful occupation of Palestinian land. It's a very political piece, and it's very sympathetic towards Palestinians," Kuehl said. Although she grappled with the free speech issues involved, Kuehl felt that guaranteeing the safety of the artwork was paramount.

Klotz's construction "Operation Dia de los Muertos" is a scathing commentary on Operation Gatekeeper, the current U.S. enforcement policy for stopping Mexican border crossings. Using another rolling wall, Klotz covers a ladder with religious icons and Mexican decorative items. She turns the ladder into a cross and transforms the ladder's sections into tableaux, including a scene with a toy helicopter flying over a mini-cemetery for victims and one with a toy Border Patrol agent holding skulls with bloody hands.

The front side of "Operation Dia de los Muertos" is effective because it has the layers of her other works. It isn't immediately apparent, for example, that the dolls have been painted to become Border Patrol agents--close viewing is required. The front side of the work resembles a stack of Mexican Day of the Dead boxes. The back side of the wall includes texts about Operation Gatekeeper, texts about shootings and other acts committed by Border Patrol agents and autopsy photographs of Mexicans shot while attempting to cross the border. Although communicating such information to viewers is important, this posting of texts even in boxes that resemble reliquary boxes is not effective artistically.

Klotz, who recently moved from Tucson to northern California, has traveled around the world working with different ethnic groups during artist residencies. Some of her constructions reflect the cultures she encountered: Palestinian, Taiwanese, Israeli, African and Aboriginal peoples. Her 8-by-5-foot acrylic paintings on canvas feature beading, embroidery and multiple borders with designs from various cultures. Klotz envisions the paintings' tropical images of birds, palm trees and water in terms of an exploration of the similarities in the spiritual teachings of several religions. The problem is that the existence, let alone the meaning, of Klotz's symbology is not apparent in these images, so the viewer is left with what seem like decorative paintings.

The Klotz exhibition, which features 23 artworks, is a coup for Muse since Klotz is a national artist, and this exhibition will travel to art museums and university galleries in Arizona and Texas after closing here. Muse was founded in 1995 as the International Arts Center, and for the first five years its only art exhibition spaces were the hallway walls. The Rocket Gallery opened for a single season in the center's basement last year. This year the basement was converted to studio space. Muse now plans to devote the foyer, hallway and one room to a gallery and exhibition space, although it has devoted two extra rooms to the large Klotz exhibition. Kuehl, who is running Muse's gallery as a consultant, is finalizing an exhibition schedule for Muse that runs into 2003. So six years after its founding the International Arts Center not only has a new name but a new commitment to the visual arts.