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About the Exhibition

Antell reminds us of the universal experience of longing and loss, and of laughter in the face of longing and loss


July 16–October 23, 2022

MOWA | West Bend

Tom Antell’s paintings delve into cartoon imagery and dark humor, playing out absurd, colorful allegories on the blasted agrarian landscapes of corporate farms and colonized fields. Antell is Ojibwe, a member of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota.

A pair of hapless, sad sack sailors encounter the New World, careering across sea, sky, and land. They are colonizers, unwitting witnesses to clear-cut forests and the advent of unwanted technology and progress. The sightless figures are disturbing and clownish, eliciting uncomfortable empathy and laughter. But they are agents of chaos nonetheless, sowing confusion and destruction on everything they touch.

Antell manipulates traditional symbols of American exceptionalism and bounty. The cornucopia, or “horn of plenty,” evokes the peaceable kingdom of American mythology, the emblem of a Happy Thanksgiving. In Antell’s depiction, this Seussian object becomes a dunce’s cap, a tornado, or offerings more dismal signaled by despair and darkness on the horizon’s edge.

Generational trauma related to disease and illness also emerge in Antell’s paintings, inscribed on the skin in works containing figures. Antell compares the legacy of the AIDS epidemic that has affected his personal community and life with the new reality of the Covid pandemic. Lesions, sores, and calligraphic depictions of viral organisms betray an anxiety that sits abstractly on the very surface of characters in Antell’s universe.

Though his themes and imagery express his deeply held affinity with the Indigenous community, Antell reminds us of the universal experience of longing and loss, and of laughter in the face of longing and loss. Strange Lands is the first exhibition of Antell’s career.

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Support for this exhibition
generously provided by

James and Karen Hyde