PROVINCETOWN — Kurt Reynolds’s exhibition at The Commons, “How Far Is the World,” is at once personal and mythic. The assemblage artist crafts stories and forms out of objects resonant with history.
For Reynolds, who is best known for art he made during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the past is alive and fluid in old musical instruments, retired marine rope, and more. His tableaus in antique boxes recall the sly, nostalgic box constructions of Joseph Cornell, making oddball juxtapositions that prod us to consider old things anew.
In “Light Falling on the Stairs,” a paint-chipped sailor and a fellow in a black woolen suit stand stiffly beneath a flight of stairs. A faded American flag fills the wall behind them. A palimpsest of posters nearby reads “UNDERGROUND” and “UNICORN.” The scene could be a century old: Who are these men? Are they lovers?
Leading us inside stories, these smaller works draw us into the caverns of our own imaginations. Reynolds’s larger works offer a swift shift in scale that brings the bigger sculptures alive as characters in the same narrative universe — which maybe isn’t as safe as we thought back when everything fit in a shoebox.
“The Violin Maker’s Son” reads like a fearsome folktale: An undressed doll perches inside a small, mutilated cello. A violin’s neck extends from the top of his head; the strings loop through his fingers, as if he’s a marionette. It’s Pinocchio, if Geppetto were a luthier. Using instruments as the stuff of art, Reynolds evokes music’s intangible emotional impact. “As the Sea Goes Silent” is a whale, with teeth made of piano keys and a piano-hammer ribcage; imagine the mournful songs this leviathan sings.
Reynolds warps antlers in rope with tufts of black lamb’s wool for “Sea Serpent,” turning them into a sinuous creature with a bony, goggle-eyed head, and mounts it on wood like a big game trophy. The piece seems to say, “be careful what you hunt for.” There’s no conquering cryptids; they will always come back to haunt you.
If his art is an indication, haunting is what grips this artist: Music’s sway, history’s pull, the visceral progression of a story. Making such things material, Reynolds pulls them from the depths and brings us face to face with their monstrosity, fancy, and sorrow.
KURT REYNOLDS: HOW FAR IS THE WORLD
At The Commons, 46 Bradford St. Provincetown, through Oct. 2. www.provincetowncommons.org