Friday, August 26, 1994
shows decay of west myth
By David Sorsoli
wild animals fighting over takeout food in the city to ghost
towns where mobile missile launchers stalked the dusty streets,
Michael Lindenmeyer explores the periphery of civilization
and its leftovers.
his series, “Critters/Western Town” at the Multnomah
Art Center, artist Lindenmeyer documents the animals that
live off the garbage of our culture.
seagull eyes choice fish heads on the dock. A parrot, escaped
to live the good life, watches the entrance to a roadhouse
tavern illuminated by a sign’s tacky neon glow. Racoons,
like two bandits, scrounge through trash cans for food. In
these works, the word “corruption” hangs in the
air like smog.
“Varmit’s Den” a skunk pokes its way through
old newspapers on a beach where condos and combers face each
other across a well trodden expanse of sand. But this is not
Disney and it’s not a flower the skunk finds, but an
empty pack of Camels and a drink cup. Scattered here and there
are human bones and newspapers, and in the empty blue glow
of the city night, an owl watches from a crumbling barrier.
stake here are our own ideas of the inherent nobility of animals.
Perhaps we believe that animals would rather die than eat
leftover macaroni salad or rummage through garbage for morsels
of fast food, but they wouldn’t.
animals are scavengers and they have turned their talents
to scavenging, not from each other, but from us. On an epic
scale Lindenmeyer documents this new age of the wild animal
in “Red Moon,” where snarling, slavering coyotes
fight and howl over what clearly are the remains of takeout
food. A red moon hangs impossibly low and huge, while skyscrapers
rise up out of the fog like some giant and bizarre forest.
Behind the coyotes lies the junkyard backdrop of barbed wire
on an oil field.
mostly with pastels on black paper, these drawings seem like
sick-and-twisted fairy tales. By focusing the work around
one dominant color, Lindenmeyer conveys a feeling of fantasy
or vision in the juxtaposition of wild animals in these cityscapes.
disparate elements with high emotional content can also effectively
revitalize imagery that has been too thoroughly explored before,
and Lindenmeyer does this in his Western Town series.
the inheritors of the pioneer vision of free land and gold,
of manifest destiny, and of just plain greed, have gotten
used to the sagging barns, the crumbling shacks and the rotting
farmhouses that pepper our landscapes. We’ve gotten
used to the idea of ghost towns and old mines left to tumbleweed
and the torpor of abandonment. Mythologized in movies and
on TV, the Western goldrush town evokes an instant Kodak-induced
rush of sentimentality. Landmarks of another age, such images
are so fraught with nostalgia and cliché that most
artists wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole.
bravely explores these leftover vistas of the West, in the
hues of a post-atomic sunset or a Hollywood ending gone bad:
opposing colors such as yellow and purple, pink and green.
But instead of trying to capture the Old West like an amateur
photographer, he interjects the effects of the modern world.
the collapsing house and dirt road leading to an old trailer
and shack, jet fighters fly in a yellow and purple sky in
“Shakedown Street.” Rambling through a ramshackle
collection of Western facades, a Soviet missile launcher rolls
through town a century after the last gunfight in “Scudscape.”
No one’s left to try to save the town or even care,
although it has become the focus for new war games.
Lindenmeyer is fascinated with the intrusion of modern reality
onto our myths of the West, of the folklore surrounding the
remnants of the “pioneer spirit.”
“Nevermore” the impression of a rustic brick room
gives way under scrutiny. It’s a neon cactus in the
window, after all, and the view isn’t chaparral but
the lights of freeway traffic at night. There is nostalgia
here, too. The sadness over lost dreams.
in the arid “West of Mule Creek” where early surveyors
decided that all Arizona needed was less heat and more water,
we realize that the wonderful idea that progress will solve
all society’s ills is flawed. We are shown what progress
has brought us and what it has cost.
greets the grandiose dreams of the West, the great plans for
the future, with a hard eye for the price paid. These are
not just ghosts that have gone away somewhere, to love only
in memory. The towns and buildings still exist and so do the
animals, albeit distorted. He sees the corruption of our myths
of the Wild West and of wild animals in terms of what our
world has become rather than what we thought it was.