timo fahler "SHRUG ATLAS": The Philbrook Museum of Art

19 April - 31 December 2024

timo fahler, (b.1978, Tulsa) brings his exploration of history and contemporary society to his first institutional exhibition in Oklahoma. Inspired by childhood visits to The Philbrook and fueled by a desire to delve into his multicultural roots, fahler's art uses everyday building materials—such as plaster, glass, and metal—infused with Aztec imagery and contemporary worldviews. The result is a collection of vibrant and critical stained-glass sculptures rooted in Mesoamerican traditions that resonate with present-day relevance.

At the heart of the exhibition lies "Shrug Atlas," a sculpture in which Fahler replaces the condemned figure of Atlas with Tlaltecuhtli, the Aztec creation deity. Bent beneath the weight of the earth, Tlaltecuhtli's fiery red tongue balances the world, symbolizing the precarious nature of existence and the delicate balance of the earth itself. The use of stained glass and rebar in the sculpture further enhances its symbolic resonance and evokes a sense of transcendence and spiritual illumination. The work embodies a tension between the ethereal and the earthly, the sacred and the profane. This juxtaposition reflects the inherent contradictions and complexities of human existence—our aspirations for transcendence weighed against the harsh realities of the material world.

Surrounding this centerpiece are three sculptures featuring Aztec deities behind iron gates. These spectators further reference fahler’s ancestry and point to allegories of the underworld gods Mictlancihuatl and partner Mictlantecuhtli, as well as an expansion on the allegory of Tlaltecuhtli. The “spectators” act as guardians for the central figure and players in the performance all at once—they reflect back the emotional toil visible in Tlaltecuhtli’s struggle. fahler's use of salvaged iron gate frames from his neighborhood speaks to the trappings and failures of the American Dream. These frames, sourced from homes demolished for new developments or left abandoned in an overpriced market, serve as potent symbols of the cyclical nature of progress and decay. Through his art, fahler encourages reflection and resilience, acknowledging that in the face of uncertainty, sometimes all we can do is take a moment to breathe and shrug.

Installation Views