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Visual & Design Arts

'American Berserk' exhibition at U-M Humanities Gallery explores alternate version of U.S. history

By Sydney Hawkins

U-M Men's Glee Club performs "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed"

“American Berserk”, an exhibition by Valerie Hegarty, will be on view from Nov. 2-Dec. 21, 2017 at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery.

Throughout her career, Brooklyn-based artist Valerie Hegarty has explored fundamental themes of American history and particularly the legacy of 19th-century American art, addressing topics such as colonization, slavery, Manifest Destiny, nationalism and environmental degradation.

Valerie Hegarty,Watermelon Head with Banana Smile, 2016, glazed ceramics

Valerie Hegarty,Watermelon Head with Banana Smile, 2016, glazed ceramics

The show’s title, “American Berserk,” is borrowed from Philip Roth’s Pulitzer-winning novel American Pastoral, in which he defines the inverse of the American pastoral ideal as the “indigenous American Berserk.” The show includes a group of ceramic sculptures and a mixed-media site-specific sculpture jutting from the wall.

Hegarty’s anarchic, revisionist take on American history as manifested in the nation’s artistic legacy is embodied in her fantastical works. The sculptures, which seem imported from a parallel universe, include watermelons that become animated, explode and then decay; sly depictions of George Washington as a series of topiaries; spectral clipper ships sinking and calcifying into shells; a branch breaking through the wall and piercing a painting of George Washington, making his nose appear to grow; and a duo of “fruit face” personae that survey the surreal proceedings.

This grouping of works is an edited restaging of the original show that was initially presented at Burning in Water gallery in New York in 2016.

There will be an opening reception and artist talk for “American Berserk” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2. The Institute for the Humanities Gallery is located at located at 202 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor, and is free and open to the public from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays.

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