According to the artists in “Hank of Oz,” Dorothy always has big drug-hazed eyes. One notable exception, though, is Daniel Johnston—whose Dorothy is a napkin sketch cartoon with blank button-eyes and floating, pen-point irises. And just across the room, Devin Crane’s Dorothy is simultaneously innocent and knowing; her eyes are wonderfully expressive.
Alcove Gallery’s end-of-the-year group show traditionally takes a hallowed, pop culture childhood memory and transmits it through the combined imaginations of about two dozen artists. Last year it was “Secrets of the Chocolate Factory” (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory); this year’s show appropriates the Wizard of Oz—aka “Hank of Oz.”
Of the artists this year, Daniel Johnston presents one the most subtly divergent visions of Oz. As in the 1939 movie, both the Wizard’s projected alter-ego and the Wicked Witch of the West are green-skinned—in Johnston’s Noon Nap and Surrender, both characters are the exact same shade. In contrast, the colors of Dorothy and her crew’s skin and clothing switch hue in every scene.
I’d like to interpret Johnston’s color choices as a commentary on the alternating tensions between fear, revulsion, and exaltation experienced as one community dehumanizes another. Against the imposing posture of the Witch and Wizard and elements like the noose in Surrender, Dorothy’s scrappy posse symbolizes a community organized to defend itself.
In a way very reminiscent of World War II era anti-Japanese propaganda posters, Johnston’s drawings make for an evocative exploration of Oz’s racial politics.
John Tindel’s Miss Every Man transforms one of Judy Garland’s most famous Dorothy photographs into either a shrine to innocence. . .or possibly its opposite, given the piece’s title.
There are few differences between this Dorothy and the original. For one, this Dorothy wears her own scarlet letter “V.” Additionally, Tindel alters the original photograph by increasing the size of Garland’s head and placing a smudge of ink between her brows. As with the piece’s title, this new Dorothy can be seen in two different lights, depending on your interpretation of the symbolism behind Tindel’s photographic alterations: is that ink smudge a Hindu tilaka (often misinterpreted as a reference to a Hindu woman’s marital status), or could it be a reference to Charles Manson or Ash Wednesday?
In addition to nuanced symbolism throughout, the “Hank of Oz” show offers some fantastic technical work. Looking at these pieces, it’s hard to imagine a single way they could more closely approach their artists’ original vision:
The same sentiment can be applied to the “Hank of Oz” exhibition as a whole. This show is a fantastic collection of artists, styles, and approaches: a definitive snapshot of artists at the height of their abilities.
“Hank of Oz” will remain on view at Alcove Gallery through Sat. Jan. 17.