In “Atlanta Myzot,” their fifth exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery (through January 21), German sculptors Julia Venske and Gregor Spänle introduce the latest additions to their carved menagerie of imaginary invertebrates. The myzot features a suction tentacle atop its blobby body, and it sometimes achieves a pleasurable creepiness in its resemblance to a worm or caterpillar hybridized with a cartoon character, akin to the Smurfs from which Venske and Spänle took their inspiration when they conceived the idea of breathing the illusion of comically floppy creaturely life into hard stone.
Some of the sculptures look like buildups of poured latex, so it comes as a surprise to first-time viewers that these works are actually polished white marble. As with earlier versions of Venske and Spänle’s mythic creatures, the myzots interact with consumer products mostly associated with the artists’ childhoods. This includes the marshmallow concoction marketed as Fluff. In general, the rule of the game for this series is that the products must have kept the same container design since the 1970s.
One myzot appears to be guzzling a bottle of Alpen Birra Udinese, which is unlikely to be familiar to most local viewers, but in a nod to the environment in which the exhibition is hosted, another myzot proffers vintage kitsch postcards of Atlanta (“Myzot Atl,” below).
The suggestion that the myzots are capable of slithering and engulfing gives the exhibition a faint edge of subliminal anxiety amid the sweetly perverse humor. This fresh tinge of complexity is all to the good, for Venske and Spänle have gone far, both metaphorically and literally, almost entirely on their extraordinary ability to subvert the stolid solidity of marble. This exhibition presents a very slightly altered iteration of their trademark combination of serious aesthetic reflection, technical virtuosity and wryly transgressive nose-tweaking for those who insist that marble sculpture must be associated with solemnity and sobriety of purpose.
Their capacity to make marble look like a fluid medium never ceases to amaze, and the works in this exhibition (mostly from 2011, with a few from 2008 and 2010) are well worth seeing – and worth owning, for that matter. But the work has settled into a mid-career signature form that holds few surprises for those who have seen previous Venske and Spänle shows.
The pair have carried their whimsically mythic vision literally around the world, in venues from Bolivia to Belgium to South Africa to Singapore, with exhibitions in Australia and Hong Kong en route back to their home bases of New York and Munich. Some of their journeys (documented at their 2010 Marcia Wood show) have been the stuff of performance art.
Nevertheless, their work has taken on such an air of familiarity that a true breakthrough will require something on the scale of their proposed parking lot installation of a giant myzot appearing to gobble down a small car. There is nothing wrong with familiarity; it’s a sign of artistic maturity, which Venske and Spänle wear with an agreeable lightness of touch. Their aesthetic practice itself guarantees that they are in no danger of becoming ponderous. They are, however, becoming predictable, even if they are pleasurably predictable.