Alive & Kicking: Fantastic Installations by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, and Gladys Nilsson - Exhibitions

Alive & Kicking: Fantastic Installations by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, and Gladys Nilsson

June 26–November 11, 2024

Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, Downtown Waterville

This exhibition brings together three contemporary artists who have never shown together before, but are all remarkable for their punchy, surreal installations. Gladys Nilsson and Catalina Schliebener Muñoz contribute original works, made on-site in the gallery. Their spirited, strange, cartoonish scenes are complemented by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s Mysterium Tremendum (late 1980s), a quasi-autobiographical tale illustrated across 125 aluminum lasagna pans. Each installation incorporates eccentric figuration, whimsical storytelling, and lived experience, illuminating the fantastic in the everyday.

In popular use since about 1830, the expression “alive and kicking” originated among fishmongers to advertise a fresh catch. Both now and then, the turn of phrase emphasizes that something or someone is particularly and especially alive. In that spirit, these artists produce work with spunk, grit, and exuberance. Though elements of identity come into play for all three—Nilsson references blue-collar living and her own bodily aging process; Muñoz draws from growing up trans, intersex, and Chilean; and Lanigan-Schmidt alludes through content and materials to his Catholic upbringing, economic status, and queer sensibility—none of the work is didactic. Instead, each artist imbues their work with vibrant, animated, and off-kilter qualities.

Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, Deep, Deep Woods (detail), 2024. Dimensions variable. Vinyl cutouts on painted wall, jump ropes, framed textile pieces, colored pencil, embroidery and jump ropes on mat board, frames. “Courtesy of Mattress Factory, © Tom Little for Mattress Factory.”

With a shared interest in celebrating popular media and so-called low culture, the artists present themes and materials with which audiences may be familiar, but with a twist. Nilsson, in her largest-scale project to date, draws ecstatic, elastic giantesses engaged in acrobatic antics. Her work, she says, has always been about “interactions and chitchat among beings,” and indeed, her compositions hum and buzz with human encounters. Muñoz’s hybrid entities fuse childhood imagery from cartoons, coloring books, advertisements, toys, and thrifted objects, stretching and remixing this familiar iconography with what the artist considers minor materials—vinyl, collage, assemblage, and embroidery—to evoke flux and ongoing change. Lanigan-Schmidt’s disposable aluminum lasagna pans invoke the dazzling flicker of the divine through cheap, everyday materials. Tracing a fixed set of drawings onto Mylar, the artist then glued the Mylar into the pans and embellished each one with different pigments, hues, paints, and patterns, as if working the pages of a coloring book of his own devising.

Things, places, ideas, and people are alive and kicking here, in spite of sometimes stacked odds. These artists’ installations tap into feelings that are sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, but always resilient. With a dash of comedy and an abundance of visual splendor, this exhibition asks viewers to reflect upon modes, methods, and means of transforming life’s vicissitudes into unexpected sources of plenitude.

Selected Works

Click on any image above to see captions and view larger.

Banner image: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Mysterium Tremendum, late 1980s. Mixed media on 125 aluminum lasagna trays. Each tray approximately 13″ x 10 ½” x 2″ (33 x 26.6 x 5 cm.). Photo by Howl! Happening. Courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, NY.