From the freakish to the fabulous at new winter show
COLUMBIA, 1/19/12  (Beat Byte) --  Temperance, humility, diligence -- and chocolate Hershey's kisses?  
That's one of many surprises awaiting visitors to the Columbia Art League, where until February 25, The Seven Deadly Sins (and the Seven Holy Virtues) demonstrates the struggle between virtue and vice. 
For artist Lawrence L'Hote, the chocolate kisses may represent gluttony, cleverly tucked beneath wooden lids atop tin cans with the names of all seven virtues in his new piece, Seven Vessels.  If we weren't supposed to get into them, I can't apologize.  Two young ladies already had the lids off and were sampling before I came along. 
Sculpture and mixed media pieces like L'Hote's populate the new exhibit, ranging from the delightful -- to the grotesque.  About 20% of the exhibit is beyond my taste, featuring work that screams bloody murder just to hear the noise. 
Among pieces I found delightful, Ernest Hilderbrand's Mutually Assured Temperance imagines two applewood chalices connected by a thin cord attached to small corks in the cups.  
I'd never seen corks in a chalice before, which made me realize that if either chalice gets pulled too far, the corks will pop, draining away the adult beverage within.  Mutually assured temperance. 
Other pieces, like Sawyer Wade's striking Pride, in pastel and colored pencil, spoke to the analyst in my head but not the artist in my heart.  Featured on the Art League's brochures, Pride is a potent mixed message, a fractured, almost homo-erotic vision of a muscular statue of a man -- or is it a woman -- lovely in repose, but riddled with cracks -- as Hemingway would say -- at all the strong places. 
Is it pride tearing man apart?  Or lack of pride?  Given that word's multiple meanings, I understand the possibilities, but found the work too cold, too distant in the way it chose to unwrap all that meaning. 
Avarice (can be a real drag), says Hannah Hollister Ingmire in her sculpted mixed media piece by that name, which imagines a woman bogged down by jewels, money, a cell phone -- all the modern-day trappings, but in gluttonous excess. 
It's an effective piece and I get the artist's message, but for me it missed an aesthetic I was seeking.  It wasn't pretty enough, in other words, to capture my heart. 

Prettier is Betty Avery's Unknown Charity, a three-dimensional montage of white-gloved hands holding money in various denominations.  Look closely, beyond the hands, and you'll see a Phantom of the Opera-style mask in the upper left corner.  Or is it the remnants of a skull? 
Whatever it is, it seems to suggest -- amidst all those grasping hands -- that we have a warped view of philanthropy, that we hide behind the money we give, pretending to help but not really caring.  Or is it all the phony, grasping charities, with masks of compassion hiding hearts of pure greed?

Finally, my gift-idea favorite for this segment, Dan Goldstein's There are no sins on the beach is a simple but colorful photo of two feet on a beach, next to "Kalik -- Beer of the Bahamas."   Perfect for any man cave, or that memorabilia-filled rumpus room where the Tigers will play the Jayhawks forever, to heck with SEC.   

NEXT:  Two majestic pieces battle for Best of Show, IMHO

 -- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat