CAMH Show Pits British Art Duo Against Houston's Art Guys

John Wood and Paul Harrison, still image from Night & Day, video with sound, 2008
John Wood and Paul Harrison, still image from Night & Day, video with sound, 2008
Courtesy the artists and f a projects (london)

Houstonians may be forgiven for assuming that gentleman performance/conceptual art duos are commonplace in the art world, spoiled as we are by the creative longevity of our own hometown Art Guys. I mean, doesn't every city have such a pair?

Not so, says Toby Kamps, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection. "These collaborative duos are pretty rare in art, and being in the hometown of the Art Guys made me predisposed to be interested in other collaborative duos," he said.

The result of that interest is the first US museum survey of the video work of British duo John Wood and Paul Harrison, opening Friday, February 11 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Wood and Harrison use their bodies as props in their work--painstaking video creations in which they interact with everyday objects including ladders, paint, balls and rolling office chairs, just to name a few.

"Answers to Questions" is the last show Kamps curated at CAMH before his jump to the Menil last year, and its run will include a discussion, moderated by Kamps, between the artists and the Art Guys themselves (Saturday, February 12, at 2 p.m.). "We immediately thought of a guys versus lads tag-team act," when planning the show, said Kamps.

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What does Kamps expect to happen at the first meeting between Wood and Harrison, (whom the Tate Modern once called "the art world equivalent of Laurel and Hardy") and the Art Guys, (once dubbed by the New York Times as "a cross between Dada, David Letterman, John Cage and the Smothers Brothers")? "I'm just going to try to get out of the way and let these guys talk about their work," he said.

Going beyond the obvious humor in Wood and Harrison's work, the issues they raise--dare we say the questions they seek to answer?--are worth exploring. "The key to what Wood and Harrison do is they reveal the inspiration, the perspiration, and maybe even a hint of the desperation behind creative acts," said Kamps, "and they do this in a simultaneously funny and deeply insightful way."

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