Going places: Artist John Stoelting’s Trifecta exhibit will take you somewhere new

John Stoelting’s sculpture The Dancers on display at Trifecta Gallery in Downtown Las Vegas, Nev.
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four stars

Going Places: Fish and SupermenThrough September 26; Wednesday and; Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Trifecta Gallery, 702-366-7001.

John Stoelting's "Hummingbird."

Whoa. It’s weird, there’s no way around it. Rewind: It’s really weird. It’s the kind of art that makes the viewer think, “I’ve never seen that before,” and then, “I’ve never thought that before.” It’s that second step—from surprise to insight—that makes John Stoelting’s Trifecta Gallery show, Going Places: Fish and Supermen, a success. The six sculptures on exhibit flip from playful to poignant so subtly, it’s difficult to find the exact moment when the heart thumps.

Consider, for example, the alpha male of the show: “Hummingbird.” Stoelting has scaled up a toy soldier, amputated its arms, added a paunch, and equipped it with both status and gear for flight. A ridiculous green and lavender crown perches on the soldier’s head like some remnant of bygone pageantry an emperor might wear. On the soldier’s back, Stoelting has added a triangular wing for propulsion. As if that weren’t odd enough, the flying soldier is either landing on—or ejaculating—what looks like a bulb pedestal. Is it garlic? No, it’s an onion. No, it’s a scallion. No, it’s … an inverted thought balloon or a spermazoid of epic proportions.

With its happy green and pink palette and toy-store aura, Stoelting’s “Hummingbird” is resolutely cheerful. But that buoyant surface is the result of a serious preoccupation with line and form. All the extreme points in the 63-inch by 38-inch by 36-inch assemblage—the tips of the crown, the triangular wing, the top of the bulb, the feet and head of the flying body—create sight lines that point “up.” Because the composition visually lifts the considerable metal and plaster mass, “Hummingbird” is more Puck than Caliban. Like some forgotten character in The Tempest, it seems about to demonstrate evolutionary chutzpah as it ascends into other, more hospitable realms.

Movement—of composition, portrayal, concept or all three—is the pivot of Stoelting’s show. “The Dancers,” for example, consists of three armless soldiers on a lower evolutionary scale than “Hummingbird.” They perch on blue blocks, apparently learning their dance moves, and how to control their dorsal wings. In “Choiced Evolution,” Stoelting crosses the species barrier with a 2-foot-long silver pupfish sporting a copper water tank to breathe. “Going Places (float?)” takes the evolutionary theme down to the cellular level, featuring what appears to be a metallic protozoan equipped with a propeller for air and water mobility.

The amusing, even goofy side to Stoelting’s Going Places: Fish and Supermen takes a hit, however, in the “Coming Up for Air” video. Filmed at Lake Mead, the gasping carp with their fleshy, rubbery mouths are a reminder of the impact of the plummeting water table on the creatures who call the lake home. Taken as a whole, the ailing carp, endangered pupfish and armless soldiers offer commentary on the uneasy coupling of environmental collapse and bioengineering. Stoelting’s blithe sculptures are, finally, a “disarming” reminder of uncertain scenarios facing the planet.

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