Last Call: Sarah Ferguson at Coup d’oeil Art Consortium

Sarah Ferguson, Occupied, 2011. Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Coup d'oeil Art Consortium, New Orleans.

Editor's Note

It’s the last weekend to catch Sarah Ferguson's “E Pluribus Unum” at Coup d’oeil Art Consortium. Before it's gone, Emily Wilkerson reviews.

The phrase “E Pluribus Unum,” which translates to “out of many, one,” is an ideal the United States has identified with since the American Revolution. And while ultimately replaced by the official motto “In God We Trust” in the 1950s, “E Pluribus Unum” remains an element of our country’s identity. Embedded in the U.S. seal, it travels the world on many of our government documents—including the Presidential and Congressional seals—and individual citizens’ passports. In her exhibition “E Pluribus Unum,” the painter Sarah Ferguson examines the axiom beyond its role as an emblem of our country’s patriotism, questioning the ways in which the powerful predicate (and mask) themselves and their agendas today.

Blue-grey hues form the dramatic shadows that characterize the series of portraits and strange encounters on display. These paintings are reminiscent of old horror films in their eeriness and clumsiness, and in some instances, their referents. Such is the case in Monster Meeting, 2013, in which a hunching Adolf Hitler inches toward a stoic Frankenstein in a desolate, rocky setting, bearing a flaming torch. While one might make assumptions as to why Hitler and Frankenstein are meeting and where, the exhibition as a whole is complicated by a motley cast of characters that includes Hillary Clinton, Frankenstein’s bride, actor Boris Karloff of The Mummy (1932), and other more or less familiar presences.

Look deep into The Sphinx with No Secret, 2013, and you may find traces of a recognizable U.S. president in the guise of Hollywood’s relentless mummy. And carefully dissecting Occupied, 2013, you may become witness to a suspicious monetary transaction between two men. Juxtaposing 1930s Hollywood horror with contemporary capital powers, Ferguson points to a time when “good” and “bad” were more simply deciphered or at least presented as such. At the same moment, she reminds the viewer how easily intentions and actualities are now convoluted by the media and other channels of information, she herself further manipulating the viewer’s understanding of her subjects through the works’ titles. Conflating political leaders with symbolic Hollywood monsters, Ferguson highlights the uncanniess of the exhibition’s cast in an attempt to analyze how our leaders’ actions shape the fact and fiction of this country as the “one.”

Sarah Ferguson, Bride (left) and The Sphinx with No Secret (right). Both 2013. Both oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Coup d'oeil Art Consortium, New Orleans

Editor's Note

“E Pluribus Unum” on view through July 13 at Coup d’oeil Art Consortium (2033 Magazine Street) in New Orleans.