A feeling of awe and respect, and a better understanding of what we can do for wild horses, and what they can do for us, are created by the Jennifer Cocoma Hustis exhibit at Science Museum Oklahoma.
Called “Unbound: The Mustang's Plight and Behavior Through Art,” the show educates viewers on the wild horse and its “journey from the Bureau of Land Management roundup to the mustang adoption program.”
“There is something untamed, primitive and intuitive in all of us that I believe is awakened by a horse,” said Hustis, a rider since childhood, who advocates “a safe, holistic and creative” approach to the subject.
In addition to its educational value, however, the show offers visitors a most stimulating, and sometimes interactive artistic experience, in responding to the paintings, drawings and sculptures of the Edmond artist.
The head and neck of a wild-eyed red mustang, with mane flying free, baring its teeth in front of a stark white background, is the subject of one large, eye-catching canvas, demonstrating the “Fight or Flight” reaction.
Life-size, but lower key, is a sculptural installation called “The Herd,” consisting of three birch wood, cutout forms of horses, two standing and one lying down, around an axis provided by a post.
The naive body language of a girl, wearing shorts and a tank top, as she sits, bareback, on a golden, sunlit palomino, expresses the nearly universal and irresistible “Appeal” of horses, especially for young people.
Empty, black eye sockets give a classical sculptural feel to the artist's large acrylic of the head and shoulders of a dark, reddish-brown “Matriarch,” described as the eldest mare, who runs the herd with the lead stallion.
A splotchy, buckskin-hued mare turns her head back with “Apprehension,” standing protectively behind her colt, in tall grass, in an even larger acrylic canvas. About the same size is the artist's portrait of “The Patriot,” a dark red, maroon and white appaloosa running, with hooves cut off by the picture plane, in front of a starry, blue-black night sky.
A “Lead Stallion” gets his due in a nearly heroic acrylic canvas of a palomino, rearing up from prairie grass, in front of a loosely brushed crimson background. Equally dramatic is a second acrylic of a rearing red horse biting the neck of a white horse, also rearing and kicking, as they fight for higher status in the “Hierarchy” of the herd.
Wonderfully enigmatic, and thought-provoking, by contrast, is a smaller acrylic called “Universal Wisdom,” in which an owl takes wing in front of a black horse, making it look down, startled, as it runs in pale grass at night.
Intriguing, too, are the artist's smaller, looser, and sometimes more gestural, mixed media pastel and acrylic works on paper. Subjects of these range from a horse, watching us warily with one eye, as if about to “Charge,” to a horse whose ears express “Content” with its rider, and depictions of such equine predators as a cougar, wolf and bear.
More offbeat, but delightful, is a mobile in which black paper birds and winged horses hang from the black, stylized, head, mane and tail of a horse, to represent the close relationship between horse and birds.
Other attractions include a case of silver-painted, sometimes feathered horse bones, called “Survival of the Fittest,” and a “Galluping Mustang Wall Mural” blackboard, on which visitors can make their own chalk marks.
On display in a final gallery room are more wall murals and interactive works, plus a Western saddle, chained to the ceiling to sit on, and photos of horses, taken at the Bureau of Land Management ranch in Pauls Valley.
Also available, projected on the wall, is “Wild Horse Wild Ride,” a film by Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus, in which 100 people take a “makeover challenge” to tame a totally wild mustang in order to get it adopted.
The people-friendly exhibit, curated by Scott Henderson, director of Satellite Galleries at the museum, is highly recommended — and worth the price of regular admission — during its run through March 1.
— John Brandenburg