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21c Presents Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey

Exhibition marks the artist’s first retrospective

PRESS RELEASE – 21c Museum Hotel announces a new exhibition titled Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey. Curated by Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming for 21c Museum Hotels, Wild Card charts Michael Combs’ multi-media, fifteen-year exploration of gender identity and cultural mythology, as experienced and expressed in both personal rites of passage and within the history of group behavior. The exhibition will open at 21c Louisville on March 30 and will be on view through September 2013.

Stites notes, “This exhibition is emblematic of 21c’s continued support of visionary artists as they develop. We presented Michael’s work in Louisville’s opening show in 2006 and are proud to present this comprehensive look at his career today. Our goal continues to be to bring today’s most exciting contemporary art to the public and to push the boundaries of how people engage with and experience art.”

A native of Long Island, New York, Combs was raised by generations of hunters, fishermen, boat builders and decoy makers. Instead of becoming an avid hunter, Combs developed a passion for preservation and an interest in the vanity of gaming sports. His carefully crafted works call on his vast knowledge of the trade, while examining man’s competitive nature and the attendant need to seek validation through sex, discrimination, societal trophies, power and control. The use of 19th-century American trompe l’oeil tradition and the inclusion of everyday objects and clothing grounds Combs’ investigations in the present while revealing a complex legacy of meaning. The racing stripes on Combs’s Big Baller, 2004, for example, are not merely a contemporary fashionable embellishment: the origin of the racing stripe was to provide the driver with a swift reference to calibrate passing distance, allowing him to be the victor, to win the race. Both a skilled craftsman and a witty conceptualist, Combs dissects this urge to win, and calculates its costs.

Other works such as Heavy Bag, 2012 and How the West Won, 2012 employ hand-carved linden wood or found materials, such as Lincoln Logs, crocodile skin, animal antlers, shotgun shells, foul weather gear, rubber cladding, antique bedpans, and other appropriated elements, referencing a broad spectrum of American history and popular culture alluding to masculine icons such as Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt. These works and others examine another common boyhood obsession, and reference the mythology of the American West within the context of sports rivalry. Combs’ equipment-art both illuminates and subverts the construction of gender identity, while as the artist says, creating a reminder that “sometimes it’s best to be all that you can’t be.”

In addition to five works from the 21c collection, the exhibition also includes loans from private collections and galleries as well as The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY. Combs’ work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States. A native of Long Island, New York, Combs earned his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He lives and works in New York City.


About Michael Combs
A native of Long Island, New York, Michael Combs lives and works in New York City. Combs earned an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. His work has been exhibited at galleries and museums throughout the United States. In 2005, the Parrish Art Museum featured a site-specific project, The Trophy Room, for which the artist transformed the gallery space into an immersive display of sculpted hunting conquests. In 2007 and 2008, Combs collaborated with Salomon Contemporary Gallery of New York to present State of Nature at Art Dubai, and The Lodge in East Hampton. This fall, Combs’s work has been selected to represent the School of Visual Arts in their 65th Anniversary show in New York. In 2014, the North Carolina Museum of Art will present a two-person exhibition featuring the works of Michael Combs and of New York painter Alexis Rockman.


About 21c Museum Hotels
21c Museum Hotels was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors and preservationists who are committed to bringing works of art to the public through innovative exhibitions and programs that integrate contemporary art into daily life. These goals, coupled with their desire to participate in the revitalization of downtown Louisville led them to open the first property in 2006. The couple selected architect Deborah Berke to convert five 19th century tobacco and bourbon warehouses into a 90-room boutique hotel, contemporary art museum, award-winning restaurant Proof on Main, and cultural civic center in the heart of downtown Louisville. With the success of the Louisville property came opportunities for growth. 21c has opened hotels in Cincinnati, OH and Bentonville, AR and plans have been announced for properties in Lexington, KY and Durham, NC. Each 21c is unique in its site-specific art installations, architecture, design and restaurant. With a commitment to bringing works of art to the public that ignite the mind and fuel creativity, the museum exhibition space is integrated seamlessly throughout each property. There are opportunities to discover art around every corner of 21c: in the restaurant and bar, on the in-room Video Art Channel, in elevator lobbies, hallways, and even the public restrooms.  21c Museum presents a range of arts programming curated by Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming Alice Gray Stites, including thought-provoking solo and group exhibitions that reflect the global nature of art today, site-specific, commissioned installations as well as a variety of cultural programming. The museum is open free of charge to the public 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. 21c museum has presented more than 75 exhibitions including Hybridity: The New Frontier; OFFSPRING: New Generations; Blue: Matter, Mood and Melancholy; Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea; Ann Hamilton: Bookweights; Consuming Cultures: A Global View; Cuba Now; Simen Johan: Until the Kingdom Comes; Creating Identity: Portraits Today; and All’s Fair in Art and War: Envisioning Conflict.


For press information contact:
Stephanie Greene
21c Museum Hotels