Serena Cole's 'Through a Glass, Darkly' features unsettling transformations, portraits

Serena Cole's new show, "Through a Glass, Darkly", opened September 15 at Soo Visual Art Center. The exhibition features an array of inscrutable nude models with penetrating stares, collages filled with themes of suicide and destruction, and an overall sense of alluring defiance. Curated by the late SooVAC founder Suzy Greenberg, who died unexpectedly last month, the show culls images of supermodels and movie-star actresses from glossy magazines and creates a nightmarish investigation of society's obsession with beauty. 
Tamatha Perlman
, one of the SooVAC's curatorial panelists, writes on the gallery's website that Cole was one of the many artists that Greenberg invested in throughout her career, having worked with her previously in the "Untitled 5" show in 2006, and "A New Breed of Watercolor" in 2009.

The most unnerving pieces in the show are the distorted portraits taken from fashion magazines, and are part of the Black Mirror series. For example, a photograph of Tilda Swinton which appeared in V Magazine is manipulated to make the actress look older and more masculine. The original photograph shows the red-headed actress staring back at the camera. Her hair is short and slicked back, and she's not wearing clothes. In Cole's recreation, the actress's lips are pursed, her body is thinner, and she has a gaping, sorrowful, and menacing expression. "Fuck you," she seems to say. 

Down by the Water I and II features Ophelia-esque women floating serenely in the water. They look to be dead, although they are quite peaceful as their eveningwear ripples off of them in the waves. The pieces have a "morning after" feel to them, as if they capture the dénouement to an evening of excess and extravagance. 

There's also a series of disturbing headdresses. Like her portraits, the main figures of these works are beautiful, even if they appear to be on the verge of madness. They wear elaborate worlds on their heads as they scowl at the viewer. In Search and Destroy, flames, a woman running through burning woods, and some kind of bad-ass vixen inhabit what seems to be an image-based narrative from a B-movie. In I'm Dead, I'm Dead, I'm Dead, a woman wears a double-image version of herself on her head, smiling manically with skulls and balletic figures adding ornamentation. Both of these headdress pieces suggest a fierce battle of emotion and anger that ripples underneath the psyche. 

It's a deeply unnerving set of work. Cole has a talent for blending an uncanny realism with a simmering anger that forces you to interact with the work.


"Through a Glass, Darkly"

Through October 20

Soo Visual Arts Center

2638 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

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