In its original incarnation as a 1965 rock song, The Strangeloves' "I Want Candy" was a thinly disguised celebration of teenage lust. The Hudson River Museum's intriguing exhibition of the same name explores far subtler signs of desire, vulnerability, and exploitation. Sensuousness abounds in the images of candy and desserts by more than 40 contemporary artists, but so does a kind of sophisticated restraint; the sultry curls of icing touch only obliquely, if at all, on the hot-button issues of sex, violence, and politics. Encompassing a wide range of media — painting, sculpture, collage, photography, video, and installation art — "I WANT Candy" is indeed a Whitman sampler of contemporary art trends, selected with a shrewdness that belies its rambunctious title. The exhibition was made possible, appropriately enough, by a gift from Domino Sugar.
What better way to invoke candy's artificial brightness than with synthetic materials? This is the tactic of a number of works, including Julie Allen's "Black Forest Cake" (2005), a delicious, layered concoction of silk, vinyl, and marbles, and Peter Anton's mixedmedia "Grand Sweetheart Assortment" (2007), a 5-foot-tall replication of a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Orly Cogan extends the process to an entire tabletop, covering it with dozens of desserts, each crafted lovingly in yarn and fabric. Ironic tokens of "women's work," her crocheted strawberries stand out, scrumptiously red, on the white embroidered tablecloth.
If these pieces revel in candy's seductive physicality, others adopt a more critical stance. Store displays of innumerable packages of gums and candies, rendered matter-of-factly in paintings by both Cindy Craig and Masaaki Sato, hint at consumer exploitation. Painter Will Cotton wittily addresses class distinctions in "Trailer" (1998), his 10-foot-wide canvas of a gingerbread house, redone as a trailer home with marshmallow propane tanks and a Pixie Stix antenna. Susan Graham has painstakingly fashioned a Beretta pistol out of delicate threads of spun sugar. Among the works with pointed messages, however, the most controversial may be "Joystick" (2007), Patricia Nix's slender wall-mounted cross encrusted with peppermints, badges, and fake jewelry, or Barton Lidice Benes's "Petit Fours" (2002), with its dainty arrangements of AIDS medications on a glass cake stand.
But close to half of the works in the exhibition incorporate images of candy in a more traditional way, as elements in realistic still lifes. Paintings and watercolors by Audrey Flack, Ralph Goings, and Don Nice are notable for their literalistic precision; Janet Fish takes palpable pleasure in the transparent facets of glassware and plastic-wrapped candy. Other still lifes, though, set a somewhat ominous tone. Emily Eveleth's monumental doughnuts ooze red jam, while James Del Grosso has painted the creases of a giant, foil-wrapped Hershey's kiss with such meticulous fervor that it could be a metal-veined alien.
Elsewhere, Wayne Thiebaud's image of a phalanx of colorful Italian pastries becomes a foil for adjacent works pursuing postmodernist issues of artistic identity. And two artists have appropriated Mr. Thiebaud's imagery; Kim Mendenhall's painting "6 Desserts for Wayne" (2004) features a Thiebaud-like array of dishes, while Sharon Core's two photographs capture her three-dimensional recreations of his still lifes.
Perhaps because the gustatory rewards of candy are so fleeting, few works here address the messy act of consuming it. A humorous exception is Red Grooms's wallmounted sculpture of a freckled girl blowing an immense bubblegum balloon; it's difficult to say which is consuming whom. A video by Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand features the real thing: a bubble-blowing competition that, with its close-ups of pink-wrapped lips, manages to be at once enthralling and repugnant. Jessica Schwind's two C-prints of sweating, melting chocolate bunnies on a field of artificial grass prompt thoughts about temporariness and abandonment. And the exhibition's most absorbing work may well be John Salvest's "Red Stalactite" (2006), which consists of a real metal stool with a bright red, 20-inch-long inverted cone attached to the bottom of the seat. Closer inspection shows the tapered mass to be countless pieces of used chewing gum, pressed carefully together. Mr. Slavest has extended a slovenly, unconscious act to its industrious extreme, in the process imparting a rude elegance to the lowliest of materials. It turns out that candy, the embodiment of momentary pleasure, sometimes enjoys a second act.
Until September 2 (511 Warburton Ave., Yonkers, N.Y., 914-963-4550).