Sculpting with sod — Mark Joseph Oliver at CASS

The artist opens his sculpture-heavy (literally) exhibition, The Best-Laid Plans, tonight at South Tampa's premier gallery.

Mark Joseph Oliver: The Best-Laid Plans, Dec. 12, 7-9 p.m. CASS, 2722 S. MacDill Ave. 

Two day’s before the opening reception, Mark Joseph Oliver takes a breather from curating to scarf down some sushi- he almost forgot to eat — but let’s face it, a solo gallery show trumps lunch on a concrete floor any day.

The opening reception for his one-man show, The Best-Laid Plans, will be at CASS tonight at 7.

Oliver has been working with a tight schedule for this show. He received word that it was a go about a month in advance, which left him with a short supply of time to construct and curate. But, by some heavenly combination of skill and artistry, the man has managed to fill the giant gallery with exclusive sculptures and prints (some of which are also giant).

“I like to kind of take viewers out of their normal expectations of walking into a show, and even walking into a room. Hopefully it’s a little disorienting,” said Oliver. “But, I like to leave it up to the viewer.”

Without spilling all the cool beans, I’ll name a few of the show’s contents: a big beaver-chewed log, a 12-foot dirt and sod runway and some shotgun aftermath. Oh, and a 1,000 pound artillery shell. Can't forget about that.  

click to enlarge Sculpting with sod — Mark Joseph Oliver at CASS - Photo by CASS
Photo by CASS
Sculpting with sod — Mark Joseph Oliver at CASS

“I’m most stoked about the amount of work here. I haven’t seen this much of my own work in one space before,” he said.

Oliver’s exhibitions (and he’s got a long list of them) usually show one big piece — kind of like those ritzy designer stores that have one really impressive thing on the wall. But not this time. For this show we get quality and quantity.

“Not doing my own promotional stuff, CASS is taking care of that, has allowed me the opportunity to push myself in terms of the amount of work. This is like, a lot of work,” Oliver laughed. “It’s allowing them to all work together to create that story. I just want it to be like a sentence that creates this feeling that hopefully people will go talk about.”

The Best-Laid Plans is a complex sentence, but nonetheless a beautiful one, that questions our habits of humanity.

According to Oliver, "The Best-Laid Plans exists in the space between mankind's accomplishments and failures, dwelling in a moment of ambiguity. Works in the show reflect an evolving history of construction, industrialism, and humans' relationship to nature, with a nod to post-WWII attitudes and morals.”

After getting a sneak peek at some of the gallery’s contents, I’d say he hit the giant artillery shell right on the head.

“There’s this overriding theme of how we try and fail. It’s a fascination with control and deed restriction. A lot of my work goes along that line of where our fence stops and where nature begins,” Oliver said.

His portfolio is peppered with work that alludes to the suburban life we control and the environmental world we can’t. His 2009 work, Lagoon, confronted viewers with a room flooded with eight inches of dark water. He has also constructed a coin-operated tornado machine, which was part of his graduate thesis in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And a little bird told me that we can also expect a coin-operated all weather exhibition in the future.

“I have a lot of weather and nature-based stuff,” he said. “Where’s the line and are we crossing it?”

An interesting question that The Best-Laid Plans viewers will have to think about. Oliver brings his audience right up to the line, asks the question and doesn’t answer it. That’s the idea.

“I like my work to be minimal enough and non-specific enough for interpretation,” he said.

In my humble opinion, I find it flattering. Not in a narcissistic kind of way, but in an intellectual way. Art that allows the viewers to think for themselves about what’s going on visually (and in the theme of this exhibition, socially) is something to be valued.

Oliver does that with artful ease. The Best-Laid Plans will not spell out anything or tell you what to think. Don’t come with a lazy brain. It will ask questions and make you criticize, celebrate and think about what’s going on in front of you and around you.

Opening reception for The Best-Laid Plans is today 7-9 p.m. at CASS (artist will be in attendance). Expect to have your mind blown.

Also, expect your taste buds to have a little explosion too. There will be food by Datz, beer by Coppertail Brewing Co. and wine by Cru Cellars. But please, with a nice frothy head on top, don’t spill your brew on the artillery shell. 

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