Giving new meaning to the term “pole dancer,” Benjamin Entner’s giant inflatable self-portrait wraps itself around a load-bearing support beam inside the Contemporary Arts Center. In this exhibited artwork, Entner is nude save for tube socks.
“I knew my mom would see this,” says the artist, minutes after installing the piece, titled “Colossus,” with the help of a bathroom fan. “So I couldn’t be totally naked.”
The piece is so large (42 feet long on its side) and squeezed into the gallery to such a degree that it’s unrecognizable at first. Then you walk around it to see it’s a human-shaped, air-puffed nylon doll, its details—body hair galore—Sharpie-rendered.
“The technique is called scribbling,” Entner says. “I trademarked it.”
Indeed, a blend of humor and high art touches every aspect of the New York artist’s Ego Sum—Latin for “I am”—which runs through March 2. Entner created the show’s four pieces in his apartment in Florence, Italy, where he lived the last few years. In Florence, historical statuary can be found everywhere. The experience of residing in a living museum inspired him to explore the intersection between three-dimensional form and two-dimensional representation.
“For me, surrounded by all the statuary of naked men was like looking in the mirror—identical features and whatnot,” he jokes.
He goes on to say that each of the self-sculptures is based on a classical statue, including the “Colossus,” which references the one of Roman emperor Constantine. There’s also 9-foot “Apoxyomenos” (the Scraper), a reinterpretation of the pose and gesture of the famous mid-classical Greek statue by Lysippos. Here, instead of an Olympic athlete wiping sweat and dust from his body, Entner presents, well, himself. A strategically placed potted fern obstructs our view of the artist’s jewels.
“[The Scraper] had a fig leaf placed on him in the 1600s, which is why I placed a fern in front of me,” Entner says.
The fern suggestively leans out at the viewer from between the inflatable drawing’s legs. A commentary on how censorship often enhances attention to what’s ostensibly being obscured? Definitely.
“Hermes and the Infant Dionysus,” also 10 feet tall, is based on the Hellenistic piece of the same name by Praxiteles. Instead of a base of Parian marble, the artist perches on a stepladder. He cradles not a god-baby but a mini-Entner in boxer shorts.
In sum, from its humor to its historical art references, Ego Sum is a lot to absorb. Every year, CAC receives up to 200 proposals. Clearly, Entner’s is the kind of show that called out for exhibition in Las Vegas.
“This show is a way to draw parallels to the Strip and places like Caesars Palace, but it also demonstrates a lot more thinking behind it,” says artist Matthew Couper, who serves on the nonprofit space’s exhibition committee and assisted Entner during the installation. “Instead of the gallery being a cavity or some walls on which to hang art, this show really directs the space and makes you change your perspective on what is being exhibited. It pushes the viewer to engage the art.”
“This is only the second time I’ve seen these works,” says Entner, who made them entirely by hand with no Jeff Koons-like staff to do the hard stuff for him. Who needs an army of hired helpers, though, for packing and unpacking balloon figures?