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Oh Nancy - Homecoming Stories

Allison Layton and Leslie Shershow, Championship Rings, 2009, variable dimensions and sizes, bronze and gold plate

Gallery Diet – Wynwood Art District, Miami

June 13 – August 1, 2009

 By Cara Despain

 Sports fans arguably do not typify subject matter in visual art. Exalted players, clad in full gear with a sweaty appetite for victory rarely seem to cross paths with painting and drawing– much less myth or conceptual art. But their human side, and its accompanying vulnerabilities, and their iconic status in American culture is what propels Oh Nancy, a four-year endeavor created by a collective of artists, forward through an increasingly complex narrative. The product’s paraphernalia-driven aspect is certainly not overlooked either. “Homecoming Stories,” Gallery Diet’s summer exhibition, includes championship rings, paint-by-numbers, and trophies in addition to the usual suspects—painting, sculpture, photo, etc., by over thirty artists, to illustrate the allegory of Americana that is Oh Nancy.

 Oh Nancy founders, Fionn McCabe and Nate Wellman, had no way of knowing (and really still don’t) how the narrative would take shape. Starting with a sort of classic good and evil, forbidden love-child, blond heroine, hero-to-the-rescue formula, the project has expanded to encompass artists in nearly every media. And the story itself has accrued many nuances and facets that its founders could have never foreseen. It has become a strange hybrid of myth and American culture that gently satirizes the medium of art itself in addition to the subjects and ideas the story represents. Remarkably, it holds together quite cohesively; each new fictionalized artifact or work adds a new twist to the ever-evolving tale. 

 The basics: Nancy, the main character and fair-haired damsel in distress, was born of an unlikely and condemned relationship between the champion of the sea (a long, green, gruesome serpentine creature-man) and the daughter of the heaven’s chorus and the sky’s messenger (a blackbird). Upon her mother’s death, Nancy is left to fend for herself among several dubious forces that want to capture and control her for their own purposes. Perhaps the most formidable is the Corn Alliance—a cult of religious extremists, who have a football team as a sort of loved and feared propaganda mascot. The star of the team, Bill Oolie, is our hero. He is sent to find Nancy, and in the process turns on their leader and preacher, and refuses to hand her over to the alliance. After he is excommunicated for this trespass, he and his cronies (who side with him) then decide to use their brute force and team spirit to oppose the alliance and defend humanity.

 “It’s not necessary to understand the entire narrative,” McCabe says, “Different people involved bring different elements.” There are many takes on Nancy—Abby Webster even photographed middle school students, having them sit for her portrait—wearing a blond wig and an oversized, fantastical dress not unlike Alice in Wonderland. There are also great action shots, beautifully printed, to glorify the Corn Team mid scrimmage. The details artists choose to highlight add subtleties that become pointed comments about American culture; its obsession with entertainment, and its need for a hero. “Superstition is such a big thing in both religion and sports,” McCabe points out, and this collision of fanaticism and contemporary art is like no other. Noteworthy examples of thoughtful embellishments are Allison Layton and Leslie Shershow’s individually crafted gold-plated championship rings, and Vanessa Izryk’s hand-carved and painted, absolutely brilliant trading cards that are spot on, yet fictional, portraits of any sports star you may imagine on any given team. There is even a fictive radio drama sound installation–written by McCabe and performed and recorded by Chris Brown and Bradford Hastings–that, despite its obvious unreal elements (a throw that breaks the sound barrier), is nearly believable.

 The Corn Team seems to be a particular emphasis—they represent heroism, group-mentality, and malleable obedience all at once. There is a scale model of the Corn Stadium, cast concrete figurative sculptures of players, a wall installation of hanging football helmets, and a Bill Oolie mosaic fabricated completely of corn kernels that are very literal representations of the alliance—this contrasts with Nancy’s more mythical story. Some of those paintings, like Brian Butler’s “Mom and Pop” and McCabe’s “in the beginning” represent, perhaps in a more expected and artsy way, the metaphorical side of the story. It is an interesting fusion of myth/fiction/religion and modern-day entertainment; one that seems to make apparent the dichotomies of the narrative and project as a whole. 

 Oh Nancy creates a 360-degree narrative—one with a built-in allowance for constant change.  It is sarcastic, tender, and astute; and the quality of the work in all media reflects it. 


 Cara Despain is an artist and freelance art writer from Salt Lake City. She received a BFA from the University of Utah in 2006, and has recently been traveling and working from Salt Lake, Berlin, and Miami.

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