However you want to categorize it, zeitgeist-y art highlights Contemporary show
Published: July 20, 2011
LOL: A Decade of Antic Art
At the Contemporary Museum through Sept. 4
LOL is an exhibition best appreciated for what it has accomplished rather than for what it touts itself to be. An exhibition of 24 working artists, most not well known, it has been well attended and largely well received by the Baltimore art community, making it a huge success for the Contemporary Museum, which has battled a slight case of irrelevancy to some of the younger art community since the Beautiful Losers traveling exhibition in 2005. As a curatorial mission, LOL attempts to bring together artists working in various formats that affect an unsuspecting audience, surprise their viewers, and bring about change through pranks, real-life intervention in nongallery settings, and satirical re-examinations of daily life. The show is then divided by subsets of the admittedly loose umbrella term of “antic art,” breaking it into “Everyday Objects,” “Activist Antics,” “Artworld Pranks,” and “Theatrical Antics.” Categories are assigned to each room, “Theatrical” being divided over the video room and smallest gallery. At a glance, this order seems logical and helpful, but on top of creating some visual lulls, it highlights those pieces that don’t quite fit.
In the gallery’s front room, Joey Versoza exhibits two pieces that play on sports absurdity. In “Fuck Face,” Versoza tucks a Billy Ripken “error” card—the infamous baseball card that captures Ripken holding his “practice bat” with the piece’s title written legibly on the base below the grip—into the corner of a mirror, so the viewer sees his or her own face when inspecting the collector’s item. In more wholesome baseball humor, “Greeting Card” is a piece that Versoza included in an invitational small-works show and arranged to have signed by the oldest living relative of a Cincinnati Red upon its purchase.
Accompanying Versoza’s work is Jonathan Horowitz’s cutesy one-liner sculpture of a caricatured-beyond-recognition Hillary Clinton with the words hillary clinton is a person too written on the block below her feet. The bronze statue is impressive in scale, standing 6 feet high, and draws from a Warholian public figure appropriation and media skepticism, but it seems to have no larger relationship to “antic art,” which is used interchangeably with the term “prank” in the press release. Likewise, on the opposite wall of the front room, Ryan Mulligan’s rather charming mural, titled “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” depicts a grid array of life- and oversized survival gear, an imaginary checklist of supplies for his son in the event of a future catastrophe. This piece, which quotes from personal narrative and takes the form of a large illustration, seems to be the most irrelevant inclusion within the larger theme. Again, this is where ignoring the curatorial statement and organizational breakdown is recommended.
“Activist Antics,” in the side gallery, is the smallest grouping, though other exhibited works overlap into the category. Here artists record and present public interventions and satirical misinformation. Pieces include guerilla crosswalks, mockumentaries, ominous hazmat-style suits for the general public, and prank protest songs, attempting to address human rights, political hypocrisies, and scarred nationalism through a variety of media and performances.
Classified as “Theatric,” Nina Katchadourian’s brilliant (and most thematically fitting within her category) pieces are easy to overlook, looping on the corner television in the dark video room, but they shouldn’t be missed. Her two video pieces, “Carpark” and “Natural Car Alarms,” record real-world art interventions orchestrated by the artist and (in “Carpark”) her team of collaborators. “Carpark” documents a project that sorted Southwestern College’s vehicles, with the cooperation of their owners, into 14 different parking lots organized by color. News footage is combined with the artist’s interviews of affected drivers, showing the aerial view of the campus’ vehicles and individual musings, complaints, and compliments. In “Natural Car Alarms,” Katchadourian documents her recreation of car-alarm patterns using only bird sounds. The cars are parked in public places and alarms tripped. Art star Rob Pruitt makes an underwhelming appearance in theatrical pranks with “Kitlers,” a long scroll of cat images first seen in his Pattern and Degradation show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York. The images, undoubtedly culled from the popular blog Cats That Look Like Hitler, are far less volatile than many of the other works created for Pattern and Degradation.
Heavy hitter William Powhida is the most notable of the “Artworld Pranks” artists displayed in the main gallery space. His sharp, witty art-world commentary, which takes the form of photorealistic drawings of lists on lined paper and annotated portrait diagrams and maps, have found their way into the collections of the audience they critique. Powhida outlines the wealth, nepotism, and egos in the art world, and finds these same insiders to be the most appreciative audience of his work. These clean pencil drawings have been featured in New York magazine and other widely read publications, both in reviews of the artist’s work and as art-political cartoons. Other work grouped with Powhida into “Artworld Pranks,” again, should shirk their label and be taken for what they are. Larry Hammerness displays a wall of celebrity breasts titled “Who’s Boobs?”; Larry Krone exhibits a series of mirror pieces, embellished with foil and acrylic phrases such as it gets better and story of my life.
LOL set out to bring together artists under one curatorial assignment, but instead exemplifies an ideal function of the Contemporary Museum in the Baltimore art landscape. By exhibiting fresh, contemporary art from national and international voices and various career stages, along with regional artists (Baltimore’s Katie Kehoe is included in the exhibition, although Washington, D.C.’s Patrick McDonough or Philadelphia-based Hennessy Youngman would have been good fits too), the museum is quickly regaining the attention of a hungry art community.
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