Fine Art

Alisha Kerlin’s Roadrunners blur the line between comedy and critique

Perpetual motion staid
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Three and a half stars

Road Runners That Won't Run FarThrough July 25, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, 702-455-7030.

Q: What do a roadrunner and an anvil have in common? 1. The famous Warner Bros. Wile E. Coyote cartoon; 2. Alisha Kerlin’s sculptural installation; 3. An interesting horizontal shape; or 4. All of the above.

Meep meep, Vegas style

Meep meep, Vegas style

Kerlin depicts the roadrunner and the anvil in her cryptic exhibition, Roadrunners That Won’t Run Far, at the Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery. The show spotlights four goofy, inscrutable roadrunner sculptures—each work stands an imposing 8 feet tall, stretches 12 to 13 feet long and claims about 300 pounds of welded steel, chicken wire and stucco. Although the birds readily identify as the zippy, leggy species common in the Southwest, they’re not nature sculptures. How could they be? The impossible scale, blunt stucco and colorful surface nudge them toward comedy, as if not one but four versions of Big Bird had been reincarnated for desert survival.

“Silver State” is jaunty chrome and rests on the ground. “Flamingo (A.K.A. ‘The Dandy’)” flaunts the Strip’s historical pink and strides next to a teal-blue pool rock. “Stucco (A.K.A. ‘Urban Sprawl’)” is maneuvering over a boulder. And “Carrot on a Stick”—whose gorgeous orange “feathers” dwarf his fellows—is propped on a green armature. (Carrot’s name alludes to a witty motif in the artist’s work as well as Las Vegas’ identification as the city of desire.) Stanchions lend an awkward zoo-aura to the installation, which seems better suited to an outdoor park than to the Rotunda Gallery.

Accompanying the unwieldy aviary is a nimble brown and white drawing reproduced as a banner, a kind of graphic “key” to the installation. Kerlin has a confident line. Depictions of cacti sandwich the central symbols: roadrunner as bird, roadrunner as figurine, and the anvil of cartoon fame, always ready to plunge from the sky to stop Coyote from eating his prey. Two art-historical references—one to Giacometti’s thin, walking man sculpture, and the other to Boccioni’s Futurist sprinter—imply Kerlin’s interest in portraying speed, and at the same time, acknowledge the irony of rendering movement in a static medium.

Taken as a whole, Roadrunners That Don’t Run Far delivers a barbed commentary on the soulless public sculpture currently decorating Valley roadways. In doing so, the show succeeds admirably as a critique of the kitschy faux-realism prevalent in, say, the embarrassing bloated quail at 215 and Sunset. But in terms of Kerlin’s considerable artistic prowess, she may be better suited to the less-pointed, more ethereal and enigmatic terrain of her intimate paintings, drawings and collages.

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