Stupid Is As Stupid Does

The Art Guys prove naturals at acting dumb

That infantile element shows up full force in "Think Twice." Whereas a few of the Art Guys' works are memorable, a lot of the videos documenting their performances are also, in plain English, quite stupid. Case in point: as I was watching Bucket Feet (the Art Guys traipse through downtown Houston wearing business suits and buckets in place of shoes), a woman standing behind me began laughing hysterically at the Art Guys' actions. She couldn't tell me, though, what she found so funny. But I discovered the answer anyway in an installation composed of suitcases cut out and illuminated with the phrase, "One Has No Idea What It Is But One Laughs At It."

Think twice? Not in this show. The Art Guys literally spell out the joke for us -- over and over, ad nauseam. This is meaningless, one-liner art, no matter what windy claims surround it. You don't need a guide to help you understand this work, as much of it evokes various grades of kitsch found in Toys R Us-stocked kids' rooms and knotty-pine paneled dens.

Even so, the Art Guys' compost-heap sensibilities are tinged with tragic cynicism. Are they the fools, or are we? Just who is the joke on? It's useless to ask, because it really doesn't matter. There's little doubt that we're all increasingly seduced by the culture of idiocy. In recent years, the mass-marketing of teenage sensibility has had a depressing effect by exalting a detachment so profound that it often crosses into stupidity. The popularity of Wayne's World, Beavis and Butt-head and Jim Carrey movies reflect a fascination for humanity's dimwitted. More than that, they suggest that the selling of new sensations and sexy images has become such a frenzied enterprise that everything has become exhausted.

To their credit, the Art Guys never let us forget that we seek out both the inspired and insipid varieties of stupidity. The pursuit of stupid experiences is our national pastime, a sort of banal sublime that replaces both rationality and common sense. And the Art Guys frequently suggest there's an intrinsic ridiculousness to their work.

Stupid pet tricks? Stupid human tricks? Just as everyone is fair game for David Letterman's cool and cruel swipes at mediocrity (the immigrant cabdriver who can't find his way across town), so do the Art Guys tap into the lowest common denominator of blue-collar America by working in a Stop N Go for 24 hours. Does this particular "endurance" test serve as just another replay of banality for the sake of banality? Though an ostensible point of such "endurance" pieces is to demonstrate the numbing of meaning through repetition (hour after hour... ), isn't it condescending, even insulting, for two middle-class white boys to "play" act at a job that has become truly life threatening? At the very least, the Art Guys transformations and performances seem to show a certain blindness to emotion and personal struggle.

All in all, the Art Guys make me sick, mostly because they seem to be the definitive artists of the moment in Houston. I'm perplexed by my response, which includes flat-out nostalgia along with disgust. Perhaps beneath all this adolescent posturing is a philosophical meaning grander than that carried by their sophomoric puns. Or perhaps not. If anything, the success of "Art Guys: Think Twice" confirms that stupidity is not just hip these days, but is truly an investment in self-debasement. What is substantive, after all, about a couple of cute, smart-ass perpetrators of aesthetic practical jokes? Nothing.

"The Art Guys: Think Twice" will show through June 25 at the Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose, 526-0773.n

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