Andrea Stanislav gazes into the looking glass 

Headless Horsewoman

Minnesota artist Andrea Stanislav works at that peculiar intersection between the academic and modern art worlds, a place that produces irony the way fermented grain gives us alcohol.

Consider: Stanislav is an assistant professor of art at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She's working on a Ph.D. in New Media and Communication through a graduate school in Switzerland. She describes herself as a contemporary artist who works with video, sculpture, installation, and public art.

When interviewed by The Huffington Post last month about her well-received installation at this year's Scope Art Fair in New York, she compared the works at Scope to the works at her most recent Armory Show: "There is a different focus in terms of work [at the Armory Show] that is of the academy. The greater public is not invited or meant to understand. It is more of a closed conversation."

Which makes Stanislav, on the one hand, an academic artist who wants her work to engage the public in interesting, accessible ways. And on the other hand, her contemporary work at Scope or on display at Redux Contemporary Art Center during Piccolo includes objects like headless horse sculptures covered in mirrors, headless cats on either side of a pink cube, and a taxidermic black goat passing through a mirrored monolith.

Norman Rockwell, she ain't. "My work is very much about creating a particular experience that is then given, or perhaps a gift, to the viewer," she says in a video voice-over that accompanies a slow, flying pan across an installation of mirrored obelisks in the desert. And then they explode in a truly impressive fireball.

Stanislav constructed and blew up those obelisks in Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats as part of an installation that became part of her 2008 show River to Infinity – The Vanishing Points. It is, as she puts it, beautiful work. She's not bragging when she says that. Rather, it's "beautiful" in the sense that it is shiny and glittery, reflective and representative — even entertaining. She's also right when she points out that producing "beautiful" work is a great way to get pigeonholed on the "reactionary" side in the decades-long intramural artistic bar brawl over the value of beauty.

Then again, Stanislav doesn't stray too far from the high ground afforded by the Big and Vaguely Conceptual. The catalog for her Vanishing Points show features an essay by arts writer Jan Garden Castro that includes this passage: "Stanislav ... uses the river — the symbol of Westward expansion — and the vanishing point — the illusion that two parallel lines meet somewhere in the far distance — as potent metaphors illustrating today's quandary: outside of our sanitized and romanticized versions of vanishing species, we're literally destroying the wilderness and the natives we profess to respect." It goes on from there to talk about Manifest Destiny and militarism.

The artist's statement on her website casts her work in the context of the ironies of the carnage created in mankind's attempts to create better conditions, but the artist stops short of interpreting her work for others. "I like to keep the imagery open to some extent. I don't want to completely divulge everything that my work is about to the viewer," she says. "Some things might be obvious, but I would hope there is perhaps a mystery or an intrigue."

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