On the floor at Lawndale Art Center rests a globe -- just your typical globe, save for the fake explosives duct-taped to it. A couple of mini-American flags are sticking out of the charges, which are adorned with sticker logos from Exxon, Texaco, Shell and the rest, not to mention the words "Enduring Freedom." It's the kind of over-the-top, post-9/11, screw-Bush agitprop you'd expect to see in a show of student work, resting atop a white pedestal and mistakenly assumed to be oh-so-clever by its creator.
But that's not what's going on here. That little globe is about one-hundredth of Richie Budd's overloaded sculpture, which claims half the main gallery space. It's a heaping combination of some of his previous works, at least one of which was at Finesilver Gallery last year. And what a combination it is -- televisions, boogie boards, fans, toolboxes, minnow buckets, wineskins, oars, fins, strobes, cameras, speakers, bags of microwave popcorn, a microwave, a fax machine, a bubble machine, and that's not even the half of it. During the show's opening, the monstrosity was fully operational, wowing visitors with lights and cameras and bubble action, but during my next two visits the beast slept, sans blaring speakers, sans popcorn scent.
Budd says his work is based on theories of neuro-linguistic programming -- a kind of feel-good, self-induced brainwashing associated with Tony Robbins and even Joel Osteen -- but the San Antonio artist doesn't really seem to have any kind of higher goal, save for making you think of his sculpture at random times after you've left the gallery space. I originally thought this was a bunch of b.s. and figured that theory could apply to just about any artist's work, but a few days later I found myself at a party, staring at a strobe light, thinking about microwave popcorn. Pavlov would've been proud.
In a way, Budd's work initially presents itself as a unified whole, a morass of sight and sound and scent, and it takes a lot of looking before all the individual pieces start to pop out. At that point, some of the magic begins to wear off -- brainwashing generally requires a little bit of confusion -- and a decidedly nautical theme emerges. There are hints of water, water everywhere once you stop to think, including a suspended torpedo and a fake severed arm inside a fishnet. Numerous spots for seating give the whole piece a vehicular feel, as if you could hop in and whisk across the water at any moment. This pod-like aspect hints at the work of Andrea Zittel, mashed together with a little Jessica Stockholder and a lot of electronic gewgaws.
Paired with Budd in the main gallery space is fellow San Antonian Jimmy Kuehnle. Their works have been clumped together under the title "Waiting to Explode," and although that phrase aptly describes both their projects, the artists seem bound together more by friendship than shared artistic practices. Kuehnle is known on the Texas art scene for his wacky performance pieces, and for the Lawndale show he donned a rip-stop nylon suit and bounced around the museum district. That suit, consisting of 104 inflated cones, now rests inert on the floor next to Budd's creation, although you can see what you missed on a DVD playing nearby.
I'm a big fan of Kuehnle's whimsy, but watching the video almost saps the life out of the project -- not because you're looking at documentation after the fact, but because Kuehnle looks pretty damn miserable dragging that inflated suit down Montrose. When Daniel Adame walked through the Westheimer Block Party dragging a giant stick of plaster, you expected the artist to look like he wasn't enjoying it. But Kuehnle's project was supposed to be fun. Or at least that's how it sounded.
Kuehnle also has some binary drawings on display, in which he's written out the ones and zeros transmitted over the Web for various corporate logos, including Google, Disney, Shell and Starbucks. His primary focus seems to be public performance, so perhaps he created these works as a way of having something marketable, but there's not much elegance in their simplicity. He might do better to follow the example of Christo, who sells sketches of his large-scale public pieces to keep the coffers full.
Upstairs at Lawndale is "Forest Interrupted," a delightful show by Houston artist Anderson Wrangle. A cord of chopped red oak rests between the space's two pillars, lending an installation feel to the surrounding photographs. Wrangle uses several different means to display his images of North Carolina woods, including video, overhead projectors and anaglyph (3D, dude!). The video Splitting Wood is just that, the artist chopping wood, sometimes in slow-mo and sometimes backwards, but always with a heave and a crack. Three overhead projectors display Quarry Falls, a watering hole replete with sunbathers and cliff divers. And the 3D images are resplendent, alternating between scenes of untouched hillsides and wooded areas tainted by blue and orange smoke.
We embrace nature and retreat to it, often destroying its splendor in the process. This notion pervades Wrangle's work, perhaps nowhere more so than on the wall where he's hung four ink-jet prints. In the middle is a diptych, CCRC, Summer 2006, showing an idyllic country club populated by folks on a deck watching a tennis match below. Up across the lake, in what's supposed to be virgin hills, is nestled a cottage, peeking out amongst the trees, no doubt providing a beautiful vantage point for its inhabitants but sullying the view for everyone else. This encroachment is symbolically re-created in the two photos framing Wrangle's diptych. Both show wooded scenes punctuated by more colored smoke, creating sullies of orange and purple. The results are simple, poignant and just plain pretty.
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