From pop sculpture to skillfully restrained Polaroids, Brent Holmes’ new show makes matter matter

Ignominious Refuse at the Winchester Cultural Center Gallery.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four stars

IGNOMINIOUS REFUSE Through March 11; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive, 702-455-7340.

The classical world meets Las Vegas via Caesars Palace and beyond in Brent Holmes’ Ignominious Refuse at the newly renovated Winchester Cultural Center gallery. It’s a sneakily brainy show. You can appreciate, say, the 10 large-format color photos as purified objects of contemplation, admiring their stark, other-worldly beauty. Or you can peruse a bank of 200 Polaroids, noting how the skewed framing and odd chemical effects aren’t so random after all. Or you can circumambulate the tagged Doric columns—whose curves complement the curved gallery wall—and consider how easily modern graffiti quashes an ancient architectural form.

Or … you can go deeper. In many ways a conceptual show, Ignominious Refuse engages less with the motifs and more with the ideas of the ancient Greek and Roman world. At the source of Holmes’ inspiration stands Lucretius, a first-century B.C. poet-philosopher, who himself was influenced by earlier thinkers, like Epicurus and Democritis. These bearded men of yore focused on the thing-i-ness of the world: how matter comes into being, how we perceive it. And everywhere they looked, they saw atoms.

In Ignominious Refuse, the atomistic theory of matter manifests in various ways, most successfully in the purified 40-by-36-inch color photographs, each seemingly featuring a building block of existence. Using a plain white background, Holmes shot found objects using a macro lens and then blew them up, keeping the images centered and clean, like documentary photos for a scientific database. “Simulacra I,” with its stony “shell” and bottleneck “column,” seems like a compressed vestige of the classical world, a terse shorthand for a time and a place that no longer exist. The strangely resonant “Simulacra II,” with its seashell-ear-vulva hybrid, suggests an embryonic life-form on the verge of reanimation.

Holmes’ sharp photographic eye roams freely in “Primordia Rerum: Discoveries Divine in Intimate Space,” in which a couple hundred Polaroids arranged in neat rows and displayed in glass cases incrementally document the materials of the world. Sometimes it’s atomistic architectures of light and pattern; sometimes it’s snapshots of presumable antiquities. A field of poppies that captures the latent geometry of plant distribution. A moody portrait of Caesar, a bust that is itself a copy of a copy of a copy.

Ignominious Refuse makes a convincing case for Holmes’ photography. The Doric columns, while mildly interesting for their stencils and tags, function more as theatrical props than art. Along with the shopping cart and tinsel sculpture, “Superbia Civilis,” they belong to a pop street aesthetic at odds with the visual complexity and highbrow restraint in the photographs. In the venerable terms of classical art history, the intellectual Apollonian approach works better than the emotional Dionysian. All in all, an interesting show that, as Lucretius might say, “matters.”

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