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September 2008, Interview with Michael Combs


   Sculptor Michael Combs image by Patience Pollock 2008
 

Ana Finel Honigman interviews Michael Combs

Collectors are often thought of as high-brow hunters, prowling galleries for fresh meat to feed their collections. For voracious collectors residing in the Hamptons this summer, premier East Hampton gallery Salomon Contemporary offers The Lodge from artist/woodsman Michael Combs, who will turn the gallery's warehouse space into a blunt, masculine hunters' lodge and camp, replete with Harley Davidson-style swans and a life-sized hanging Albino Buck's head. Serious art-hunters, urbane acquisition gatherers and simple grazers can tramp over to there to contemplate the distance between "getting away to the country" and actually engaging with nature's brutal rough majesty.

AFH: Were you deciding to create a dark and dirty faux-lodge in the Hamptons because lodges were symbols of old-money WASP society and the Hamptons is the playground of today's elite?


MC: There is some connection to that with The Lodge, although where I really had an opportunity to play with those ideas was in my Trophy Room installation which I did for the Parrish Art Museum two years ago. That gave me an opportunity to focus on elitism and decadence within the context. I was able to slip in subtle but heavy-handed designs in my personalized damask wallpaper. Southampton couldn't have provided a better location, and the phrases, "trophy homes, trophy wives, and
trophy lives" were wandering through my mind when designing it.


 Michael Combs,
 The Lodge
Installation at Salomon Contemporary, 2008
 courtesy Salomon Contemporary and the artist


 
 Michael Combs
 The Lodge Installation at Salomon Contemporary, 2008
 courtesy Salomon Contemporary and the artist

AFH:
How does The Lodge differ?

MC: The Lodge is more personal. My grandfather and great-grandfather were the chief hunting guides for much of New York's aristocracy of the early 1900's, including the Guggenheims and the Whitneys. We have had a hunting shack very similar to The Lodge on Long Island for nearly 80 years. It's an amazing and personal place, although much discord occurred there for me. I don't long for hunting today. So the context of The Lodge plays with some of the more gritty aspects of desire and power.

AFH: Are most of your collectors hunters?


MC: Actually, they are not, although some of the hunters I know do get a kick out of the work.


 
Michael Combs
 The Wish
, detail
 2008
 courtesy the artist


 Michael Combs
 Field Gear
 Leather and silicone rubber
 10"x 9"
 courtesy the artist

AFH:
Why do you think antlers and animal skins are such a decor trend nowadays?


MC:
The antler has been a timeless and charged visual for so long that incorporating them into our current hyper-green consciousness seems utterly chic and makes perfect sense. 

AFH:
Is your art commenting on the lodge look's trendiness?


MC: For me, these objects and ideas have always been around. I view it all with a nostalgic glance back. I grew up exposed to a large trophy room chock full of hunting collectibles and rare firearms - a major celebration of the kill. It is inevitable for me to want to explore these subjects. Years before antlers hit the catwalk I was running my fingers down the creamy spinal cord of a gutted deer.


 Michael Combs
 Podunk Pump, model 1887. 2008
 Silicone rubber
 48" x 9" x 1.5"
 Edition of 10
 courtesy the artist


  Michael Combs
  Podunk Pump, model 1887. (detail)
  2008
  Silicone rubber
 48" x 9" x 1.5"
  Edition of 10
  courtesy the artist

AFH:
What is the connection you're making between mankind's relationship to nature and S&M?


MC: From a primal perspective both animal and human behavior can be hard to differentiate. What we do and why we do it, in the psychoanalytical sense, consciously or subconsciously are an obsession for me. My trophy heads cloaked in S&M garb speak of the ludicrous lengths in which we go to acquire self-worth and validation. I'm able to prod at desire, deception, entitlement, and fear . . . a few of the more juicy elements of human nature.

AFH:
What symbolizes glamour and good-taste to you?


MC:
I'd say the extraordinary, which requires awareness and revision. Something crafted well, taken as close to the edge as possible without going over, that is alluring to me.

Ana Finel Honigman, New York

Ana Finel Honigman is a Berlin-based critic. She writes about contemporary art and fashion for magazines including Artforum.com, Art in America, V, TANK, Art Journal, Whitewall, Dazed & Confused, Saatchi Online, Style.com, Dazeddigital.com, British Vogue, Interview and the New York Times's Style section. A Sarah Lawrence graduate, Ana has completed a Masters degree and is currently reading for a D.Phil in the History of Art at Oxford University. She also teaches a contemporary art course for NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development students. You can read her series Ana Finel Honigman Presents.

 

Photo: Maxime Ballesteros


 

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