It Is What It Is. Or Is It?

This CAMH show features plenty of good work, but it's not all worth the effort.

There are a number of mildly amusing absurdist constructions with witty titles and, strangely, enough formal and conceptual similarities that they could all conceivably have been made by the same artist. There's Daphne Fitzpatrick's bucket of pocket change with a palm tree and rope, and Jamie Isenstein's Magritte-referencing table with a smoking pipe. Then there is Abraham Cruzvillegas's structure with a skateboard, a two-by-four and a potato.

Meanwhile, Patrick Killoran's An Inconspicuous Addition (2011), a cooler full of melting ice, is a WTF moment until you read the works list: "rough diamond, melting ice and cooler." But imagining "ice" in ice and trying to pick out the diamond from the crystalline chunks in the water doesn't make the work that much more interesting.

I groaned when I first saw Luis Jacob's Album VIII (2009). Fresh from inching along the floor to scrutinize Cordova's work, I found the idea of having to make a similar effort with his 67 sheets of images causing my head to throb. But thankfully, Jacob's work doesn't need a smartphone. The artist uses found images of a variety of things, including known and unknown artworks, architecture and performances, but he has created a deft visual narrative that smoothly moves through ideas and associations. It has been produced in book form, which is probably the best way to see it.

Patrick Killoran wants you to look for the "ice" in the ice.
Patrick Killoran, Courtesy the artist
Patrick Killoran wants you to look for the "ice" in the ice.
Abraham Cruzvillega's piece is made from a skateboard, a two-by-four and a potato.
Paul Hester
Abraham Cruzvillega's piece is made from a skateboard, a two-by-four and a potato.

Location Info


Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Museums

Region: Montrose


"It is what it is. Or is it?"

Through July 29.

Claire Fontaine's Instructions for the sharing of private property (2006) is similarly generous to the viewer. It's a detailed how-to video on lock picking. You can watch it for 30 seconds or the whole 45 minutes without missing the essentials of the work.

If you watch all the subtitled Russian philosophizing of Chto Delat's continuous loop video, The Builders, you'll realize the members of this occasional collective are trying to pose themselves in a re-creation of the Socialist Realist classic The Builders of Bratsk. It's a little tedious but kind of funny, especially if you've listened to Russian artists philosophizing before.

And then there are works like Pratchaya Phinthong's Demonstrations (2009), a "documentation of an interaction," which will require extensive research into both the piece and recent Thai history to get. Politics and counterfeit currency are involved. I only saw this piece on the works list; apparently you have to ask to see the work, which is in a folder at the front desk.

Is it possible to dislike a show but like much of the work in it? I don't have a problem with Daderko's curatorial conceit, and when I start looking at the works he chose one by one, my annoyance recedes. But taken as a whole, the show feels smug, insular and manipulative. It makes a lot of demands on viewers but is miserly in what it gives back.

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Whoa, you really missed the point. Why are you reviewing contemporary art if you worry that artists are "jacking" you? Why assume an artist is being elitist (unlikely) rather than pointing out the lower status of political activists and, oh nevermind! The point is to spend some time with contemporary art and not worry if you "get it." if a work does not speak to you, move on to the next one. It's an exciting opportunity that many contemporary artists are still living; if you have a question, get in touch and ask! Don't assume the worst.


I'm going to have my buddy film me while I tag Patirck Killoran's work by running up and putting a chicken salad sandwich and a Coke into it.