FOUR WALLS, FOUR artists, and pretty much one topic--women--is what's going on with the current exhibit at Chorus (recently abbreviated from Famine Chorus Gallery). Mary Esch and Karen Platt both portray exuberant, all-female fantasy worlds that, rather than deriving from any touchy-feely, "woman-positive" sense of feminism, present a raucous, complex, and often dark view of their sex. In Esch's "Coven," a trio of women perch on a hilltop, from which they survey multitudes of wild, naked little girls racing around, some wielding clubs and swords (a conscious echo of "outsider" artist Henry Darger's magnum opus). In "Sleepy Plunge," another bunch of them do cannonballs off a cliff, hair and breasts flying upward as their bodies shoot down into a great blue void.

Platt appropriates the themes and conventions of comics and B-movies for her own ends, populating her bold, energetic paintings with female adventurers. Sailors, barflys, and skiers are feeling up and/or going down on each other, embracing pin-up type girls, or almost flying out of the canvases; there are barroom brawls, same-sex pool-table rape, passionate embraces, and an overall lust for life (along with plenty of lust for its own sake).

Meanwhile, in one of Stuart Mead's new paintings, zombie girls traipse through a nighttime graveyard under the spell of a glowing devil up in the heavens; in another, they dance prettily around a man mourning at a tombstone. Mead's recent preoccupation with mortality has partly supplanted what he calls the more pornographic elements of his work, although that's not to say that his doll-faced nymphets aren't sexually charged--it's just a more subtle combination of innocence and eroticism. A girl petting a kitty-cat, whose rear end is raised provocatively toward the viewer, is a perfect case in point--further proof of the maxim that it's sexier to hold back something.

While Esch, Platt, and Mead dig into the sexual fantasies and psychological demons on narrative terrain, Frank Gaard grabs those themes and careens toward a place that's simultaneously more conceptual and in-your-face, to put it mildly. The 19 works on view here comprise a burst of cartoony, manic, technicolor (side)showmanship, replete with vaginas, asses, tits, and lots and lots of cocks (many being sucked on by women), all accented by references to Nietzche, Hegel, Barthes, and RU486. Gaard is famously frank about how his sexual obsessions drive his art, but what's going on underneath his determination, hammered home like a stud hell-bent on orgasm, to be as naughty
as he can? Apparently not much,
at least in this batch of work.

On view through April 1 at Chorus, 711 W. Lake St. #307 in Minneapolis. Chorus and the Loring Bar host an art auction with work from the above artists and others at 5 p.m. Sunday; previews begin at noon. Afterward: a publication party for Chorus magazine (which includes interviews with Platt, Esch, Gaard, and Mead) with music from Better Off Airport, the Volare Lounge Orchestra, and the Electric Polar Bear Club. Call 824-9009 for more information.

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