Art New England

New Britain Museum of American Art/New Britain

Westport, Connecticut, artist Nina Bentley has been happily married for fortyfive years, she says. That her successful nuptials haven't dulled her wry, satirical edge is evident in her new exhibition, Unveiled.

As the title suggests, Unveiled takes aim at the institute -- and contract -- of marriage. The results are always intriguing, if not necessarily hearts and flowers. Continuing her penchant for collecting what she calls "stuff," Bentley has created an assemblage of wall constructions and floor installations reflecting marital themes that range in mood from visual punning to social commentary. She displays her acidic
views of the marriage contract with a floor piece, a giant "charm bracelet" of twentyfive silver coffee pots strung together on a large, heavy chain. The piece is dedicated to Lorna Wendt, a Connecticut corporate wife who, in a nasty divorce, sued for her fair share of her husband's earnings because of her support of him and his career. When she was asked exactly how she supported her husband during twenty-five years as a corporate wife, she replied, I poured the coffee."

Bentley's companion floor piece, Security Bracelet, comprises another heavy chain intertwined with wedding bouquets and veils. Bentley uses her own wedding gloves. -her wedding veil, and her wedding photo in a number of mixed media collages. The gloves figure prominently in a series of four wall collages titled, rightly enough, Wedding Glove Series. One photo of Bentley as a bride is transferred onto an iron, which is squashing a tube of paint that oozes a color resembling dried blood. That same rustyred color reappears as a.strong metaphor for everything from marriage itself to the loss of virginity on the wedding night to the sad, bloody struggles that can blow up between husband and wife.

The seemingly innocuous wedding cake knife also pulls duty as an ominous and oddly celebratorysymbol for Bentley. Veiled Threats, a wall installation, is composed of a series of antique photos of women bordering a display of antique wedding veils that cover various vintage knives. Victim Pair employs Bentley's fascination for shoes as found art objects. Two open-toed gold shoes pose, their insides filled with bloodred glass. Bentley's message seems to be to walk softly and carefully into marriage - or perhaps she's warning unsuspecting Cinderellas against trusting their Prince Charmings too much. For all of Bentley's wicked, chilling concoctions, she maintains a dark sense of humor that keeps her work from descending into the art of divorce. Bentley obviously knows what a successful marriage can be, but also understands how to subvert the dream and reveal its not-so pretty innards.

-Steve Starger

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