The works in Rich Entel’s “Cardboard Menagerie” at the Maine Jewish Museum take the museum’s weakest quality – its hallway space – and turn it into an exquisite asset. Hallways can be tough placement for paintings – not only due to the viewing angle, but also because of how paintings reflect light. But the profile and passing of sculpture in a hallway can ramp up the experience of seeing the object from several points of view.

Entel’s works are animal busts – a genre we typically equate with taxidermy hunting trophies – made largely of used cardboard boxes and broken musical instruments. The hallway placement is an ideal setting for Entel’s sculptures because of our propensity to identify animals by profile (as opposed to people whom we identify by face).

Beyond his conceptual aptitude, however, Entel is an excellent three-dimensional designer. In some ways, Entel’s witty use of materials makes this easier to see: As we change viewing angles and proximity, an eye becomes a piano wheel or a violin head and so on. This humor hides three-dimensional intelligence behind a veneer of transformation. While the idea of sculpture in the round has a champion in Entel, many viewers could miss this sophisticated aspect of his art, hidden by its easy and entertaining appeal. This is not to criticize quick-moving viewers, but rather to note that Entel’s work offers some real depth behind its impressive first impression.

And the first impression of “Cardboard Menagerie” is indeed impressive: The works are arranged like a tableau vivant for the viewer’s first glimpse through the synagogue’s front door. It seems a simple thing, but such exhibition compositions are rarely seen outside of gallery shows of glass, ceramic or other sculptural media. Needless to say, that is a rare thing these days in Maine.

Entel’s unapologetically cubist style is an excellent vehicle for wit. While it respects that collage and assemblage truly belong to the legacy of Picasso and Braque, it finds timely purchase running concurrent with the seminal Picasso sculpture show on view through Feb. 7 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (Picasso was arguably a better and more influential sculptor than he was a painter.)

Entel’s owl above a staircase’s first step has one face below for prey and another frontal face seen from above or a distance. An elephant’s ear unfurls like an accordion, offering a rhythmic gait of motion. A giraffe’s tongue is a violin neck and head reaching out and up for unseen leaves. And an arrow embedded in a stag’s head – the only reference to a hunt of any sort – is in fact a violin bow that plays the strings set within the cubist critter’s antlers in a way that rejuvenates the ostensibly-sacrificed beast.

And it only gets better: The bow-as-arrow is a bow and arrow, in one. Such transformations go back and forth with musical syncopation.

On one hand, the cardboard looks serious because much of it is covered with what appears to be ancient texts in Hebrew as well as the weighty imagery of Albrecht Dürer-like wood engravings. But, on closer inspection, the cardboard is revealed to be Trader Joe’s wine boxes with already-recycled classical imagery. While that lightens the load, the intentionally impenetrable texts reveal Entel’s chops as a printmaker and maintain a mysterious weight that continues to impress.

In “Cardboard Menagerie,” we are witnessing an artist emerge. Entel’s arrow-struck stag, for example, shows promise, but it does seem crude when compared to the other works in terms of finish, materials and sculptural sophistication.

More impressive than the crafty repurposing, visual wit and art historical play, however, is Entel’s three-dimensional sense.

Too often, I complain about the paucity of compelling sculpture in Maine. But it’s not just a local flaw, rather, it is a culture-wide issue of atrophy afflicting our sense of art objects. While proponents of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction squabbled amongst each other like mortal enemies, they colluded in taking our attention away from composition. We lost sight of composition in the round – the very thing that made sculpture singular.

Entel’s works are compelling three-dimensional compositions, something that has started to feel as rare as a white rhino.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. Contact him at:

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