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Weasels and Deer

Inman Gallery rocks the holidays with two great shows.

Full-on goofball exhibition "Weasel" at the Inman Annex is packed with subversive pranksters and smart smartasses.

Guest-curated by Art Lies Editor Kurt Mueller and artist Chelsea Beck, the show includes work by Mads Lynnerup, the Danish master of strategic absurdity who wheat-pasted posters reading "BUILD MORE LUXURY CONDOMS" all around construction sites in his Brooklyn neighborhood. For a new print on view in "Weasel," Lynnerup silkscreened the words "NOW FIRING" in black, serifed block letters on a white sheet of paper. It looks like something you might see in a store window and your brain wants to read "firing" as "hiring." It's that assumption that makes the 2010 work so effective, as you realize that Lynnerup's sign is more accurate.

Karla Wozniak is offering up some signs of her own, slyly painting a series of company logos in a pointedly expressive fashion. Days Inn (2005) features the motel chain's old yellow-and-black logo across the bottom of the canvas, and it seems to be erupting with yellow McDonald's M's. Chevron (2006) uses the red, white and blue chevrons of the oil company's logo — in Wozniak's hands, the red becomes molten, the white seemingly melting into it. In Bank of America, a beige sludge seems to obscure the bank's logo. It looks like Wozniak is painting the cataclysmic destruction of corporate America.

Not for sale: This work by Eva and Franco Mattes — or is it Maurizio Cattelan?
Not for sale: This work by Eva and Franco Mattes — or is it Maurizio Cattelan?

Details

"Weasel"

Through January 15.

"Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer"

Through January 8.

"Weasel"

Inman Annex, 3917 Main, 713-526-7800.

"Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer"

Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

But the world of art retail is mocked as well. Brina Thurston's cardboard cutout of a gallerina, Lumi, Zach Feuer Gallery (2007), lets you buy an art salesperson as art. The cutout is leaned up against a chair at a white desk littered with the paraphernalia of the trade: sparkling water, beer and Chardonnay sit in a bucket of melted ice next to a sheet of colored dots for sales and binders of works lists.

There are a number of great works in the show that will just plain piss some people off for a range of reasons. Jim Nolan's use of pathetic crap like the lowly tube sock is calculated to push people's buttons, while a stuffed cat in a cage with a bird perched on top won't win any PETA fans and has simultaneously deceived a number of Houston art viewers and "visiting arts professionals." It's identified as being by Maurizio Cattelan, which is entirely plausible. Cattelan has worked with taxidermied animals before, and his recent show at the Menil included two stuffed labs, a chick and a full-grown horse.

When I first walked through the show, I didn't think much about it, other than idly wondering how Mueller and Beck had managed to snag a Cattelan. But on the show's information table, in addition to an assortment of creatively written "press releases" by a variety of writers, is one dated December 7 with the headline "NEW SCULPTURE BY CATTELAN TURNS OUT TO BE AN ART PRANK; It previewed in a gallery in Texas, but was made by the artists Eva and Franco Mattes."

Franco Mattes is quoted in the press release as saying, "I was never very good at making art. But, modestly speaking, I'm pretty good at copying..." The work was conceived by the duo, also known as 0100101110101101.org (a name no doubt also designed to drive writers and copy editors insane), and apparently executed by the same guy who does taxidermied stuff for Cattelan himself.  It's a pretty funny prank.

The duo has pulled a creative range of stunts in the past, including creating and promoting a fictional artist — a reclusive Serb — and his work. (Check out their eponymous Web site for full details.) Whether viewers and "visiting art professionals" who were duped are amused is unknown. (The work is listed as "not for sale," so the gallery sidestepped any angry collector litigation.) And then again maybe the work is a double agent, a Cattelan that is pretending to be by 0100101110101101.org but is actually a Cattelan. In any case, it raises a host of intriguing issues.

A more disturbing side of the duo's sense of humor reveals itself in the 2010 video No Fun. In the work, taken from Chatroulette, a site where you can chat with random and anonymous people all over the world, a man in shorts seems to have hung himself in his trashed apartment. Different people begin to chat with him, some think it's a staged photo until the body spins slightly. Some peg it as a prank and laugh, some laugh for unknown reasons and some take pictures. Occasionally someone seems concerned or horrified, but only one man goes so far as to try to call the police. He quickly realizes that the anonymity of the site makes it impossible for him to give the police any information to actually find the man. I think it's a particularly nasty prank, but it's also a revealing study on human nature, and the simultaneous intimacy and remoteness of Internet relations.

Brina Thurston's Harm (2007) is one of my favorite works in the show — and I'm a dog person. The video shows a bemused poodle sitting in the middle of a draped pink sheet. The poodle, eyes obscured by a ridiculous pouf of fur, cocks its head as a woman seemingly starts cussing it out. "You're a fucking loser...you can't do shit for yourself...you are a piece of shit, get out of my life, you suck...nobody loves you, don't ever think anyone cares about you." The contrast between the woman's over-the-top rant and the clueless dog sounds awful, but I found it poignant and hysterical — FYI, no poodles were emotionally abused in the making of the video; the artist added the audio track later.  The idea that this innocuous-looking dog has somehow generated the kind of animosity that should be reserved for two-timing, bank account-emptying boyfriends with social diseases is a riot.

"Weasel" is wonderful.
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Yuko Murata makes intimate, notebook-size paintings filled with childishly simple imagery. In "Yuko Murata: Coconut tree and deer" at Inman Gallery, a deer stares out at the viewer in one painting; in another, a yellow-eyed sheep does the same. In other work, a lone tree pokes out of the ground with a grade-school horizon line painted across the bottom of the canvas. These are the kinds of paintings that in different hands could look like the work of a fifth-grader. But in Murata's, they are beautiful, charming and engaging. Murata is one of those artists who make it seem effortless, as if just anyone could stick a tree in the middle of a page and manage to turn it into a good painting.

The artist works in low-key, coolly earthy colors in oil on canvas and oil on paper, but the canvases are the most appealing. In them, layers of shiny (glazed?) oil paint seem to slide around. The brushstrokes are visible, revealing the hand of the artist, as well as the patterns created by the hairs of the brush, as she renders her simplified, slightly abstracted images. (This is one of those shows where you definitely have to see the work in person.) Murata doesn't do any messy wallowing in paint — she applies it in thin, workmanlike layers, sometimes painting her largely monochromatic backgrounds last. They surround the animal, tree or rocks in the foreground, slightly submerging the image.

Murata combines a delicate and endearing awkwardness with a sophisticated sense of color and composition. The Japanese artist brings to her work the same deliberative simplicity that informs Japanese rock gardens — and, in fact, several of her paintings depict strategically placed rocks. But it is the combination of this elegance with a kind of melancholic goofiness that really sets Murata's work apart — few can combine those seemingly contradictory qualities into something wonderful the way Murata does. Strangely, her paintings somehow remind me of British artist David Shrigley's — if he stopped using text and suddenly became interested in aesthetics and craft.

"Coconut tree and deer" shouldn't be missed.

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