Stella Cretek

Step Right Up

By - Oct 28th, 2008 02:52 pm


As one of the 2007 recipients of a Mary Nohl Fellowship, Colin Matthes hit the jackpot. The 30-year-old scored again when the spacious inova/Kenilworth gallery was recently enlarged to accommodate the awardees’ efforts.

Though a few of the exhibits are politically understated, Matthes’ War Fair: Occupation Games for Citzens and Non-Combatants scores mightily in this political year. The theme of the nine pieces is war in all of its gory carnival-esque glory. I’d like to say it’s a “fun-house,” but it isn’t, though perhaps it is for those who get a rush out of a chance to “Stone the Prisoner,” “Shoot Into A Crowd,” or play “Afghan Roulette.” Well, you can’t actually shoot or stone, but you get the drift.

Step right up folks. Matthes knows quite a bit about carnivals, having worked for sixteen years helping his dad electrify stuff at the county fair in Jefferson, Wisconsin. I remember when the carnival rolled into my rural hometown, because it arrived with a delicious sense of danger involving the chance to win and the greater chance not to take home the fat glittering Kewpie Doll waiting on the shelf behind the sweating barker who knew how to spot suckers big time.

Matthes’ installation is a sloppy cobbled-together mess. It succeeds because it’s sloppy, in the way that war is untidy. “Stone The Prisoner,” a towering (142 inches high) painting of a prisoner, wrought slap-dash in appropriate black and white stripes with touches of yellow, introduces the games, and stands opposite “Lucky Catch (Always a Winner).” Among the prizes one can fish for, are U.S. Army helmets, flag pins and FEMA Life Preservers. The chap attaching the prizes to various hooks is ferret-faced and somewhat reminiscent of the characters populating the art of German Dadaist/Expressionist painters. The images, scratched and slapped onto crummy plywood, suggest facism, but thankfully, Matthes avoids swastika clichés. “Fire In The Hole (Grenade Toss),” embellished in circus wagon colors, and canopied in painted canvas strung with industrial-strength lights, occupies the central space in the installation, surrounded by smaller works such as “Afghan Roulette.” Place your bet folks. Take your chances. Are we having fun yet?


The day of my second visit to the gallery exhibit, was Sunday, October 19. The only other soul in sight was a gallery sitter busy chatting on a cell phone and working on a laptop. Before I exited, I placed my big round Obama “Fist Bump” pin on the railing surrounding Fire In The Hole. With apologies to Mr. Matthes, it’s my personal grenade, a token of why folks should vote on November 4. VS

UPDATE: You’ll actually be able to participate in his “Fire In The Hole (Grenade Toss)” game on November 20th. A note from Polly Morris at UW-Milwaukee urges “Come one, come all,” so do that at 6pm on a Thursday. By then the green graffiti tag left by a wannabe artist (on the red brick exterior of the Prospect Avenue entrance) will likely have been removed. And oh yeah, if you’re one of the first 50 participants, you’ll receive a free coupon to join in killing the insurgents. There’s much to peruse in the entire exhibit, so don’t miss Annie Killelea’s film about Riverwest “faces.” Maybe you’ll spot yourself in the flick swilling beer in a RW tavern. I spyed an old friend (and former publisher of the Orbit), Elaine Litzau, among the images flashing by.

The show will be on view at the inova/Kenilworth gallery until January 18, 2009. 414-229-5070 or

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