the expression on his face as he sits in the bathtub holding an electric toaster, one
can't help laughing at these absurdist dramas. Seen as a series of attempts, the works
begin to have a Harold-and-Maude-like quality. Like the thwarted attempts of the
woman bent on self-destruction in last year's film Delicatessen, it may be that his
photographs are so funny that they do not encourage contemplation of deeper
matters. It is not that humor is an inappropriate tool in addressing these concerns,
but that, like a high-body-count action film, it de-sensitizes its audience to the real
implication of the violence depicted, and the point is missed.
On the other hand, many of the pieces in the exhibition do not invite us in at all.
Patricia Ruiz Bayon's seven headless and armless body casts seem out of place in
the stark, white space of CAM's interior. Molded from clipped bits of palm fiber,
each effigy presents an offering of dried flowers, corn husks or cobs, squares of
linen or bundled sisal. The installation evokes an altar-like quality that would seem
more at home in a small chapel in rural Mexico. Here, without a thoughtful
engagement of the issues of cultural alienation, it smacks of new age conceits.
Similar problems of context daunt Toby Topek's Dining Room Piece. Submerged
in small bottles of water from spas and baths both ancient and modern, bits of
35mm film, newspaper clippings and photocopies of starving Ethiopian children
are symbolically "taking the cure". Though I can easily sympathize with Topek's
concern, I am highly suspicious of such symbolic gestures no matter how sincere
the artist may be. Perhaps in its original setting, the artist's dining room, the
work has a greater impact.
By comparison, David McGee succeeds in drawing us in. With paintings titled
after the cantos of Dante's Inferno, he draws upon the rich history of falling as a
metaphor of failure, betrayal, and punishment to address his own feelings of guilt
and inadequacy. Instead of the figure of Icarus or Lucifer, we find empty shoes
toppling through a dark abyss toward an unforeseeable end. He scratches
through the many layers of paint, smearing and dripping a palette of muted
greens, yellow ochres, deep reds, and black. The beautiful, abstract
compositions, suggestive of falling rain or the interior of an imagined cell, forever
lead us back to the content of the work.
Anyone who believes that Texas is still playing catch-up with New York and Los
Angeles need only visit this exhibition. Enthusiastically exploring either new
materials or traditional media, Texas artists are engaging the same aesthetic,
socio-political, and spiritual issues, in spite of the marginal attention they receive.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that Texans enter a larger international art community that
increasingly tends toward homogeny and superficiality. Despite the fact that we
live in a time when more artwork is available for our visual and intellectual digestion
than ever before, fewer and fewer works have the extra, indefinable quality that
compels us to avidly seek them out. Much to everyone's surprise, Pluralism's
latitude of possibility has somehow fallen short of the Eden it promised. We find
ourselves stuck in the purgatory between Modernism and whatever lies ahead. *
Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed December 21, 2013.