Glass is a peculiar medium, in part for the associations and allusions it inspires. To ask if a glass is "half full" or "half empty" has long been a litmus test of optimism, and I found that very question running through my mind while perusing the Richard Jolley glass show at Ogden in the wake of the media coverage of Ronald Reagan's state canonization -- excuse me, funeral. According to the pundits, Reagan was loved for his congenial optimism and populism, qualities I sensed in Jolley's work as well.
We see this in some of the show's earliest efforts. Interior With Dog Rug is a bowl-shaped domestic interior with an easy chair, end table and a rug depicting a dog, drawn in glaze on the surface. Frenchified yet funky, it's a School of Paris approach to the rural South with a weird, Matisse-does-Dogpatch sort of flair. Others from the 1980s include Faun, a Pan-like bust, and a small Reclining Female. Both are loosely formed with frosted glass finishes, their features defined by lines of blue glaze. But Southern populism -- Jolley is from Tennessee -- returns in Neoclassical Temple to the Bird Dog, a foot-tall frosted glass temple with traceries of blue delineating the details, including a dog bas relief centered amid the Doric columns. The frosted glass absorbs light, giving the canine a saintly radiance.
In the early 1990s, Jolley took a seemingly exponential leap forward with works like Rogue, the head of a tough, gangsta-looking dude whose surly features were modeled right into the glass instead of being drawn as in the past. Extravagant is a female head with a translucent frosted finish, and her features, like the flowers in her hair, are all sculpted in glass. The detailing is rounded and smooth, but the Matisse influence is less marked. Expressionistic in a jovially exaggerated way, their look is quite Jolley.
These, and the heads seen in his Monotypes, recall the work of our own Robert Gordy in the years prior to his untimely death. Yet, while both are expressionistic, Gordy's subjects were more urbane in tone while many of Jolley's heads display distinct Bubba sensibilities. Their slack-jawed pathos is of the Elvis or Bill Clinton variety, yet his sculptural flair and rich colors make them surprisingly sensual.
The females are equivalent, especially in his Totem series, where they are often chesty and nude like the lusty divas in erotic Hindu temple carvings, only these babes are often Big Mamas of the Janis Joplin variety. Similar tendencies continue in his most recent works such as Interior/Exterior. Here a Bubba-esque visage aglow with light from the glass brick wall behind it, conveys the sense of immediacy that makes Jolley's work so accessible, compensating for any perceived lack of gravitas with an abundance of presence, a buoyant flair for playing to the audience. The 1984 Louisiana World's Fair also played to the audience, which, unfortunately, was never numerous enough to save it from insolvency. But many locals loved it, going back again and again to savor its unique charms, which were typically more whimsical than overwhelming. Photographer and gallery dealer Joshua Mann Pailet documented the fair from its inception to its eventual demolition, and a selection of his images on view at the Ogden strives to make clear and concrete one of the most surreal and subjective of world expos. It was notoriously hard to photograph; architect Charles Moore's Wonderwall, which snaked through the site like a vast architectonic boa constrictor, could seem dreamily surreal from some angles yet resemble a jazzy heap of scaffolding in others. Even Frank Gehry's amphitheater, designed before he became big time, tended to get lost in the visual chaos. But it could still be magical, especially after dark, as we see in Oil Pavilion, Monorail Night, where a monorail arcs across our field of vision as ghostly oil platforms and some Byzantine domes outlined in light bulbs blur into a nocturnal dreamscape worthy of Fellini. The final pictures depict the sprawling fantasy being demolished in the harsh light of day, a sad end for a project that ultimately sparked the transformation of the Warehouse District from the industrial slum it once was into the artsy yuppie ghetto it is today.