by David M. Roth
Failure is rarely a catastrophic event. More often than not, it happens by degrees, which is why we can treat existential threats like climate change the same way we do bad dreams, as visions that can be banished upon waking. Michael Bishop’s current exhibition at b. sakata garo, of exquisite, small-scale bronze sculptures, gives visual shape to the psychological mechanisms that allow this. A Chico artist, Bishop is best known in these parts for his public sculptures, the most notable being a neon grid stationed atop a concrete water tower visible from Hwy. 80 in Sacramento. By contrast, the works in this exhibition range from overtly political to inscrutably personal. The show carries no title, but if it did, it might be “Bucolic Bombshells.”
The strongest of these works, stationed on either low tabletops or wall-mounted platforms, show armaments of various sorts (submarines, missiles, a tank) resting among trees, houses, farm animals and unpopulated villages. They call to mind the paranoia we felt at the height of the Cold War when warheads 90 miles from Key West and saboteurs, real and imagined, made nuclear annihilation seem like a credible threat. Such tableaux, like Sub Forest with Village Below, cast in a red patina, might be read as emblems of that era had Russia not invaded Ukraine. Today, they feel current, if not prescient, signaling the shape of the future might take if House Republicans have their way and allow Putin’s aggression to go unchallenged. The critical difference is that Bishop’s sculptures exhibit no sense of unease or impending doom – a sign, perhaps, that the artist has reconciled himself to living with the unthinkable, a notion summed up best by a piece that shows a horse grazing peacefully while a tank pulls a deflated punching bag.
Elsewhere, a group of six surrealist-tinged photo collages, collectively titled Louisiana Memories, addresses environmental issues. In these, an alligator, a man fleeing a contaminated house, a lone soldier, a pair of saddle shoes, a tank and a super yacht hover above identical backdrops of parched earth, united only by the fact each is stranded, high and dry. In other places, visual non-sequiturs abound. The strangest is Duet, in which two carnival masks appear next to what looks like a water spout attached to a candle snuffer. The same object, in another work, rests on a dog’s head.
X Marks the Spot speaks with greater clarity. At the center, it shows a man’s dress shoe – a symbol of Wall Street, perhaps — resting on a fallen Doric column, bounded at opposite ends by gold nuggets and a half-chewed ear of corn. Empires, the piece suggests, come and go, and ours, hobbled by apathy, hubris, decadence, greed and inchoate rage, may be no exception.
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Michael Bishop @ b. sakata garo through January 28, 2023.
About the author: David M. Roth is the editor, publisher and founder of Squarecylinder, where he has published over 400 reviews of Bay Area exhibitions. He was previously a contributor to Artweek and Art Ltd. and senior editor for art and culture at the Sacramento News & Review.