If Nancy Grossman Did Taxidermy, It Would Look Like These Michael Combs Sculptures


Saturday is the last day to catch “The Pond, the Mirror, the Kaleidoscope,” the School of Visual Arts‘ group show of works by alumni artists at its Chelsea Gallery that features a cornucopia of figurative and narrative works representing woodland scenes, narrative tableaux, riffs on conventional portraiture, and many, many animals. Most memorable among the latter — Mu Pan‘s terrific Japanese scroll-style paintings of amphibian warfare, “Frog War,” notwithstanding — are Michael Combs‘ faux-taxidermy mounted deer heads, which are clad in leather.


Combs’ comic yet imposing mashups of hunting trophies and bondage masks are very reminiscent of Nancy Grossman‘s famous head sculptures (above). Both bodies of work seek to problematize conventional representations of masculinity: Grossman with her heads’ ominous black leather surfaces and oddball appendages; Combs by wrapping ubiquitous symbols of male virility in masks that make the (fake) animal heads both funny and threatening.


In the SVA exhibition’s catalogue essay Thomas Woodruff, the chair of the school’s BFA programs in illustration and cartooning, discusses Combs’ works in terms that could be applied almost verbatim to Grossman’s. “Combs has created cleverly contrary objects and questionable trophies to decorate the man-cave of the absurd,” Woodruff writes. “Beautifully made and delicately finished, they are objects of contemplation. What is heroic? What is masculine? What are the relics of our aggression, and why are they being lovingly displayed? Combs builds these enigmas with an obsessive tinkerer’s zeal.”


The Pond, the Mirror, the Kaleidoscope” continues at SVA’s Chelsea Gallery through September 14.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photos by the author.)