Art Review: Let your guard down for ‘Knott for the Faint of Heart’

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117027601925184.jpg’, ‘Photo by Susan Webb Tregay’, ‘“Question Authority (The Abbie Hoffman Piece)” is a hinged box with a map of Rockford on the lid. A yellow, bejeweled Wizard of Oz road curves down over the map. On the road are two toy cars—one is a car that definitely evokes the ’60s and the other a police cruiser. ‘);

Norm Knott defines his art and his objectives with both humor and irony, titling his current show at Kortman Gallery “Knott for the Faint of Heart.”

Knott’s work is something that grows on you. To revel in his frank use of glitzy materials, you need to let go of your stuffy, middle-class upbringing—because visually, this work is pure and funky fun. But once you let your guard down to laugh, you realize you have stepped into the artist’s mind, and, perhaps, into another lifestyle. This dichotomy is the making of fine art.

For instance, his “Question Authority (The Abbie Hoffman Piece)” is a hinged box with a map of Rockford on the lid. A yellow, bejeweled Wizard of Oz road curves down over the map. On the road are two toy cars—one is a car that definitely evokes the ’60s and the other a police cruiser. Authority. The sides of the box are covered with Knott’s traffic tickets! Questioning authority. And on the inside, a young Abbie Hoffman also defiantly questions. Like many of Knott’s pieces, “Question Authority” has a recent, historical undertone. But knowing of Hoffman (actually, this radical was on the lam when I taught his daughter, a second-grader) isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying and digesting the work.

Norm Knott addresses and outdoes the heritage of assemblage with his hilarious “Salvador’s Athletic Cup.” Despite its early 20th-century origins, assemblage didn’t really move above ground until the 1950s. One eminently memorable work from this period was Marisol’s fur teacup, saucer and spoon. A woman working in the macho world of mid-century art, she took dishes from her kitchen and covered them with fur, the ’50s status symbol. This ground-breaking piece has stood the test of time, but Knott took her idea and twisted it one more time. His “athletic cup” is soft, fur-lined and luxurious on the inside, with jewel encrusted photos outside. Knott’s cup-art is referencing other art, and that is a very contemporary idiom.

Extending the life of found objects, photos and costume jewelry is central to Knott’s artistic concept and inspiration. For instance, one button over the door on “Woodpecker House IV” is from a computer. It says “enter,” but the side of that same button admonishes one to have “control.” A favorite piece of mine is built around an old autographed photo of a “Working Woman (Zoretta).” She writes “To the only one who gives a f… about us old broads.” And “Rain Forest” dangles a dozen necklace chains from its small canvas. Together with their shadows, these chains unmistakably denote rain.

Three-word pieces explore the Civil Rights movement. “Child” is written in black beads with a photo of Emmet Till and articles about his death, which sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and brought Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence. “Dignity” enshrines Coretta Scott King, and “Teach,” a multi-colored piece with a family photo, is dedicated to Harry T. Moore. The civil rights movement certainly empowered gay rights, a topic central to this show.

Norm Knott has created a show that is equally charming, funny, thoughtful and controversial. What more could an art lover ask for? The exhibit continues through Feb. 28 in the Kortman Gallery, upstairs at J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St., Rockford.

Susan Webb Tregay is an artist and author living in downtown Rockford. Her new book and DVD, Master Disaster 5 Ways to Rescue Desperate Watercolors, will be out in mid-March.

From the Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!