'Marc D'Estout: Open Investigation'

Marc D'Estout's NUMU exhibition is meant to spark the imagination
NUMU exhibition INQUISITORS: 'Los Penitentes Nomades,' a 2014 piece by Marc D'Estout, is one of many works on display at the local artist's NUMU exhibit.

TWO SCULPTURES by Marc D'Estout, Muse and Abused Muse, appear to complement each other. Both are made from fabricated steel and both are mockeries of Mickey Mouse hats. Together they constitute an unabashed ridicule of every way in which Disney has infected the youth of America.

The shiny silver-colored Muse is nickel plated and appears to be upside-down. If one bashed on Muse as a musical instrument, the sculpture might sound like some crazed Tibetan singing bowl turned industrial. In fact, the piece already looks like someone playfully bent Mickey's ears in the wrong direction. Abused Muse, on the other hand, is not shiny. It doesn't have the nickel plating. The ears hang down, as if someone yanked on them.

A new show at NUMU, Marc D'Estout: Open Investigation, includes 15 of the artist's sculptures. Fusing the conceptual with the wasteful, half of the show features work he sculpted from found objects, while the other half showcases pieces he designed and fabricated from scratch. The difference, according to D'Estout, can be understood as the difference between improvisational free jazz and scored music—between John Zorn and Count Basie.

In the former case, D'Estout develops a creative conversation with the found object and the resulting work rarely identifies as anything remotely similar to its original intent. With the fabricated pieces, he begins the process from raw materials, often flat sheet metal, then cuts and shapes the material into various forms. After stages of welding and applying surface treatments, the creative energy emerges spontaneously.

D'Estout has lumbered around these parts for quite some time. After degrees from what was then CSU Hayward and also San Jose State, various teaching, curatorial and institutional gigs took him throughout the Bay Area. He even lived in Los Gatos during the late '70s, at a time when he says "mostly artists and hippies" dominated the community.

The show at NUMU is now officially open for investigation, hence the title. One piece, Myopic Isolator, originated with the visual image of the cover one puts over a kerosene lamp. Resembling an upside-down punching bag, the work sits suspended on a pedestal in the middle of the gallery and features a tiny hole dead center.

"It's about: 'How do we expand our awareness?'" D'Estout explains. "How do we take our myopic habits and bring them in, so they don't escape?"

Perhaps the most multifaceted piece is Los Penitentes Nomades. The 2014 word depicts hooded prisoners tied up in some crazed, suburban garbage contraption, but recast as a death trolley. The prisoners are actually discarded zinc pipes from a pipe organ, but they resemble Satanic hooded characters being carted off to the hanging tree.

"I thought at first I was going to make a mantlepiece," D'Estout says. "It was going to be an altar. I kept looking at them, I kept thinking, there's something about the Spanish Inquisition here, just the shape of them."

Pinhead on the other hand, was almost supposed to be a self-portrait, but D'Estout admits it really isn't. What looks like a flesh-colored set of shoulders gives way to a large point where the person's head would normally sit. Again, one wouldn't necessarily come to any conclusion that the piece resembles a head or a pin or a pinhead. That's fine with D'Estout.

"There's an ambiguity to these pieces," he says. "And that's deliberate."

Other bizarre minimalist fabrications include: Bluebird, possibly a nod to Brancusi, resembling a blue mustache;  Buried, which features the butt of a rifle crammed into a metal garbage can lid; and A Brief Case of Puppetry, in which a puppet hangs from two strings, always slightly drifting back and forth. Each piece can be understood from numerous perspectives.

NUMU's Julie Harper encourages visitors to arrive at any possible conclusion. While installing the show, one person told her Myopic Isolator looked like a cactus.

"We want visitors to be involved in the open investigation of this kind of contemporary sculpture," Harper says. "Because it's normally such an enigmatic genre, and it could be alienating to the general public that doesn't have a lot of experience with the art world."

Marc D'Estout: Open Investigation

Thru Mar 27, Free-$9

NUMU: New Museum Los Gatos

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