To say one has a big ego is usually just a metaphor, but artist Benjamin Entner has managed to literalize the term with enormous inflatable sculptures, using himself as the model. For his exhibit Ego Sum at Contemporary Art Center, his larger-than-life soft sculptures take over the space.
The works are sculptural hybrids made of white nylon, with the figures drawn upon the surface with black marker, followed by pieces of cloth sewn together and attached to a small fan, turning them into inflatable drawings. “There seems to be a move away from the hand, so I’m just throwing it back in there,” Entner says.
Like a spin-off from Gulliver’s Travels, the work “Ego Sum: Colossus” — an enormous nude figure apart from tube socks — is squished into the main gallery space, transforming visitors into residents of Lilliput. The concept of colossal statues dates back to ancient Greece, making Entner’s black-sharpie, super-sized self a descendant of the Titan of Helios. Around the corner, another sculpture, smaller in stature but still pushing 12 feet, depicts the nude artist tucked behind a leafy houseplant, scraping his arm with a small trowel. The piece is a reenactment of the classical Greek sculpture “Apoxyomenos,” or “The Scraper” by Lysippus, portraying an athlete wiping sweat and dust from his body. Adjacent, the piece “Hermes and the Infant” portrays the artist standing by a stepladder holding a miniature version of himself as the stand-in for the infant Dionysus, referencing a Greek work from circa 350 B.C. by sculptor Praxiteles.
We begin to realize the inflated sense of self is no accident. With these works, the artist is not only taking on sculptural masters of antiquity, but putting himself on a pedestal with them. Yet, the goofy modern elements such as socks, houseplants and stepladders add humor and humility, keeping the works from becoming grandiose self-monuments. Using a sculptural format that references absurd inflatable holiday lawn decorations is enjoyably satirical and playful.
The works also link modern and classical sculptures. During his artist talk, Entner explained inspiration for the works struck during his two-year stay in Florence, Italy. During long walks exploring the city, he encountered countless classical statues but little in the way of contemporary sculptures.
“Just being around all that stuff is like a living museum,” Entner says. “I was on deadline and needed to make something and all the Renaissance statuary work seeped in. The classical tends to be more respected and using my body, I bridged the gap between contemporary and Renaissance, making the classic works more accessible.”
Playful parodies of Praxiteles and Lysippus not only bring classical sculptors back into contemporary conversation, but also demystifies and removes perceived pretension — allowing viewers to easily relate with the classic marble works.
EGO SUM Through March 2; Contemporary Art Center, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., www.lasvegascac.org.