Dave Cole

David Winton Bell Gallery • Providence, RI • brown.edu • May 9–July 5, 2015

By: Alexander Castro


Dave Cole, Fiberglass Teddy Bear, 2003, fiberglass insulation,
14 x 14 x 14′. Image courtesy of the artist.

A fusion of industry and play powers Dave Cole in this mid-career survey of the Providence artist’s work. It opens with a reception and conversation with Cole and curator Alexis Lowry Murray on May 8.

Dave Cole “looks at the relationship between the military-industrial complex, capitalism and childhood,” Murray says. Two major works form the nucleus of this exhibition: Music Box, a modified steamroller spitting out the first stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner, and Fiberglass Teddy Bear, a knit monster that subverts the cute commodity into something sinister.

Having a construction vehicle situated in the gallery may cramp the overall space, yet a handful of Cole’s smaller (and acerbic) works will be on view. These include baby clothing made from Kevlar, hand-carved wooden grenades juxtaposed with baseballs and “three generations of hand grenades turned into baby rattles,” says Murray. “[The work will] be shown in a new light that will be exciting for people who think they’re familiar with Dave’s practice.”

The show’s tension is a tug-of-war between nostalgia and violence. Does Cole repurpose the aesthetics of destruction and cleanse it through the materials of youth? Or does he invert supposedly pure forms to expose their diseased underbellies?

Cole’s work is especially poignant in a time of reckless consumerism, where shopping is one of the few acceptable forms of play. Cole, meanwhile, is “full of an appreciation for manual labor,” says Murray. He harnesses this force in his monumental knits and reused weapons, asking us to consider the consequences of unchecked growth.

A troubling reflection on childhood rises from Cole’s work. Can innocence exist in a world offering bottomless greed, corruption and warfare? Cole chronicles contemporary growing pains in excruciating detail. The juvenile and the sentimental are enlisted in an exposé of horrid truths. The spectacles Cole creates are more than astonished visions: They are uncomfortable questions with uncomfortable answers. Cole appropriates children’s playthings to explore the sins of the fathers, recalling the words of Norman O. Brown: “Infantilism, however glorified, is no solution.”

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