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Gray Matter of Concern

Both a bang and a whimper? The CAM's long-awaited Texas show may burn bright, but it doesn't burn deep

In more than one instance during the exhibition, however, the CAM aims for truth and social responsibility, but comes up short on both counts. To commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, Eric Avery conducted a public HIV testing at the museum. As part of the performance, a small group of people in the Houston arts community volunteered to have their blood tested for the HIV virus to acknowledge Day Without ARTcaps?. As Avery and volunteers spoke about demystifying and normalizing HIV testing as well as the importance of HIV education, TV news cameras caught the anxious faces of groups of elementary students and teenagers attending the event.

But for all that, the Art Guys' three sculptures composed entirely of non-prescription drugs proved the more powerful lures. During Avery's "performance," someone from the group kicked out the bottom of Noon, a floor-to-ceiling "rope" of 3,840 pink Excedrins, thereby spilling and cracking about a dozen pills onto the floor. After the testing, I saw a group of teenage girls ogling Dusk, with its array of row upon row of seductive little modules of toy jacks fashioned from pills. Believe me when I say those girls weren't looking at the piece as art, but simply as a cute Lego version of drugs. Similarly, those suicide photographs may influence some depressed teen to plug in a toaster while soaking in the bathtub.

I'm not for censoring artists by any means, but as long as the CAM is bringing in busloads of kids to the exhibition, it has a responsibililty to realize that an eight-year-old or a teenager may not go beyond the literal presentation of such works. Without proper aids or guidelines to discern the meaning of the show, the CAM conveys a total disregard for a younger generation that's already being X'ed out. If Rolling Stone, that up-to-the-minute barometer of music, culture and politics, sees fit to publish a feature article on teenage suicide and drug abuse in its December issue, maybe the CAM should reconsider its education program before soliciting schoolkids. Amazingly, the CAM's "Young People's Guide to Seeing" includes a small repro of the Art Guys' stacked "pills" with the instructions for "Making TEXAS art at home." In looking at the exhibition, another section coolly directs children to look for heads without bodies. What is the CAM thinking?

Curiously, "Between Two Worlds" opened concurrently with the Dallas Biennial, which was juried by the Blaffer Gallery's Marti Mayo, Houston artist Benito Huerta, University of Texas at Arlington professor Al Harris and Women and Their Work's Chris Cowden. Organized by DARE (Dallas Artists Research and Exhibition) on a shoestring budget, the upbeat and energetic show took the all-inclusive approach, choosing to focus on the true breadth of creativity throughout the state. The catalog isn't fancy, but it does reproduce one work and publish a statement by each artist, in addition to jurors' essays and acknowledgments about the selection process. reviseIn contrast, the CAM catalog has no curator's statements, no artists' statements -- each artist has a work in the catalog, beautifully reproduced, although some of the pieces are not actually in the show (a deadline problem, Doroshenko says).

At the Lawndale discussion, Doroshenko was right on target in saying that "an institution in a large metropolitan area must believe in the local artists or they'll move." We desperately need an artists' support system here just as much as we need for CAM to be on its toes rather than to breed cynicism. But one minute Doroshenko refers to himself as a liaison to the art community, and the next he's telling the same audience that it'll have to wait five more years before the CAM attempts another Texas show. So what message does this particular exhibition send to the community? Maybe how to cleverly fill up a space with numbers, all sorts of permutations and combinations. At any rate, the show doesn't tell us anything we don't already know or haven't seen regarding art, culture and society. Texas is loaded with good artists and a variety of capable work. We've also got vital institutions. Then why can't some curators show it to the best advantage and take it seriously? In the end, "Between Two Worlds" is a lazy exhibition that reveals too much about design, presentation and purchasing power and conveys little understanding of what it means to be an artist in this state.

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