Playing Hard to Get

A DiverseWorks show so complicated, it has a reference section

"The work is like this central location that collects and absorbs things. These things are always moving. Things like: Scandinavian furniture design, King Tut, high modernist ideals, household alchemy, narrative strategies, signifiers of progress and civilization, a campfire, homespun utopianism, customization, set design, giant pumpkin growing techniques, an epic riverboat adventure, and grandiose but failed expeditions."

Look, I think we could argue that all of our brains are roiling cauldrons of disparate things. I think you can successfully make art out of that concept, but that is not how McKean's work comes across. There are artists who make weird disjunctive shit that works, but usually there is some sort of inner logic -- to the materials, to the way things are put together. "The Possibility of Men and the River Shallows" has moments of greatness and conceptual threads that begin to weave together, but it's all the more disappointing when they are abruptly torn apart.

McKean seems hell-bent on trying to make things convoluted, to over-think and complicate his work. And the problem is that he seems to really want us to "get" it. There is art that can be just experienced and absorbed without having to be decoded. But that's obviously not the intent of an artist who includes a reference section with his show.

The riverboat is fabulous.
Courtesy of DiverseWorks
The riverboat is fabulous.
Peek inside the big plywood room to see a wheelhouse in the rain.
Kelly Klaasmeyer
Peek inside the big plywood room to see a wheelhouse in the rain.

A Houston curator who admits that he's no fan of installation art talked to McKean about this show and wound up loving it -- after asking the artist a lot of very specific questions. My problem is that you shouldn't have to have a one-on-one with an artist to get his work. And it's really sort of arrogant on the part of the artist to assume viewers will take the inordinate amount of time necessary to figure out his thought processes and understand the work. McKean either needs to rein in his tangents or equip his installation with an Acoustic Guide and a secret decoder ring.

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