Beautiful nightmares 

Taxidermy birds in space-suit helmets. Smooth and delicate babies with male and female sex organs. Sunshine-yellow hazmat suits that open at the crotch to reveal genitalia and flames. These are objects both of dream and nightmare, and artist Luisa Kazanas crafts them with careful design and a bold and gorgeous minimalism. In her first solo museum exhibition, at the Cranbrook Art Museum, Kazanas takes us to a war being waged somewhere deep inside our minds, where utopia and hell have made an uneasy bargain and dwell within the very same space.

Based now in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kazanas studied sculpture at the University of Illinois and Florida State University. But there’s something about her work that could have easily been informed less by an arts curriculum and more by delving into the hard sciences. The precision of pieces like “To Reach You,” a mini-diorama involving a long-dead songbird (whose tiny head is encased in a plastic space helmet), perched on a porcelain-white branch that blinks with a tiny blue light, speaks more to mad science than to surrealism or modern art. The observer can’t help but wait for the bird to move — but it does not, making the protective casing for naught. Why was the bird singled out for protection, propped up under his glass bubble? The longer you gaze, the richer the possibilities. And that is what this exhibit seems to be about: possibilities. The works are a series of stories unfolding and being replaced by stories more complex.

Kazanas’ works all possess a certain perfection that comes from their clean lines and skillfully engineered construction — yet something terribly wrong is going on. “Untitled (Mountain),” for example, showcases this exciting contradiction. The piece starts out looking like an extra-credit project that an ambitious junior-high student put together for his geology class: A delicately-painted mountain floats above its table, supported by a graceful, almost invisible base. On one side of this perfectly rendered hill, however, gushes of blue “water” ooze like blood from two wound-like holes.

Kazanas’ work in two dimensions is less satisfying. Her “Untitled 2003” is a photographic manipulation of a ram’s head against a smoky-blue fog that evokes images of some kind of mystic mountaintop. This two-headed creature floats across the landscape, one head looking left, the other head looking right, joined together in some darkroom trickery. It could be the logo of some peyote-chomping mountaineering club, perhaps, but the image never begs for a second look. This is also true of “Fire/Unknown Origin,” a large enamel/resin creation that shows a human form getting swallowed by a complicated, writhing blob that resembles brains, intestines or some sort of Chinese delicacy. The subject of consummation and smothering is an obvious one, and makes more sense as an excellent notebook doodle from a misunderstood high schooler than as a piece of compelling artwork.

But in a show of 15 pieces, these two misfires are insignificant, owing to the brilliant and unforgettable attraction that is the rest of her work.


Until March 26 at the Cranbrook Art Museum, 39221 N. Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 877-462-7262.

Dan DeMaggio is a freelance writer. Send comments to

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