Borderland stretches the boundaries of what’s grotesque.

Border Patrol 

Borderland stretches the boundaries of what’s grotesque.

Cute is the new ugly.

At least that's how it seems upon first glance at the Johnson County Community College Gallery of Art's Borderland. The show, which explores the grotesque in contemporary art (it's up in conjunction with Boundary Creatures at the Kansas City Jewish Museum's Epson Gallery at Village Shalom), was inspired by Modern Art and the Grotesque, a recently published collection of essays edited by University of Missouri-Kansas City art historian Frances Connelly.

The huggable bears and fuzzy pink puppies set against a background of green pastures and golden bluffs in Mie Yim's wall painting "Ni-Na-No" look too saccharine even for Saturday-morning cartoons. But Yim subtly depicts the adorable little creatures in some not-so-happy activities. A line of puppies marches up the side of a bluff only to topple, lemming-style, over the edge. The water below is littered with little bobbing puppy heads.

Connelly's definition of grotesque is wider-reaching than the everyday, not merely absurd, ugly or horrible. The grotesque, she writes, is characterized by a lack of fixity, by elements of unpredictability and instability. That's why, as in the case of Yim's work, images can hover on the border between two disparate ideas, like cute and ugly.

Decomposing objects count, too, as demonstrated by Min Kim's delicately composed drawings. Kim also uses imagery inspired by cartoons -- her subjects are young women with the wide-eyed look of anime. In "Maybe Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back," a young woman lies on her back in a thicket of grass and branches. Her head is turned to one side, her eyes locked in an innocent stare. Tiny shoots of grass and leaves spring from her still body, giving the otherwise seductive image a repulsive aura of decay.

Elsewhere, Carlee Fernandez's sculptures embody the dual nature of the grotesque by turning taxidermied wild animals into functional objects for human use. She creates a stepladder from the head of a rhinoceros (above) and makes the back of a gazelle a laundry basket -- and adds a tiny red "Fernandez" logo to each animal/object. Morphing the exotic and the utilitarian, the natural and the commercial, her work draws attention to the American marketplace's efforts to sell products by convincing consumers that they must combine objects and divide attention to save time. How grotesque.

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