Plastic Makes It Possible
It looks like he robbed a dollar store," remarked one observer matter-of-factly. Paul Horn's "DEATH METAL 2000: Prehistoria" is full of crap. If plastic hadn't been invented, this show wouldn't exist. Best known as the organizer of the raucous "Million Dollar Hotel" party and the quirky Friendly Mart convenience store exhibition, Horn has snatched up consumer debris willy-nilly for this show at Texas Gallery. To fabricate his art, Horn reached under the Cheeto-encrusted couch cushions of American popular culture and came up with grotty, sticky handfuls of happy meal giveaways, depressing holiday decorations, SpongeBob SquarePants products, plastic Jesuses, more fake foliage than you could napalm, and the toy merchandising of every known Disney and Pixar film. I could go on, but a comprehensive inventory would fill this entire issue.
Glue gun in hand, Horn has created conglomerated sculptures that put the asinine in assemblage. Debris is piled into absurd, witty, juvenile, sarcastic, dumb, naughty and bizarre combinations. The sculptures feel frenetic and bratty, as if they were devised by a classroom full of unsupervised third-grade boys pounding back Mountain Dew Super Big Gulps in lieu of their Ritalin.
You have to visually pick through all the debris to isolate choice juxtapositions like a gold skeleton sporting a similarly gilded Mickey Mouse head, lying prone across a four-wheeler as a chubby, glittery polar bear perches crushingly on its chest. In a far corner, a child's tiny crutch is painted pink and gold and sickly entwined with hot pink "Happy Birthday!" ribbon and deflated Mylar balloons. In the sky, awkward, coffin-shaped clouds have been crafted from chicken wire and cotton batting; little glittery skeletons dangle down below like osteological parachutists raining to earth.
You can construct a hundred different twisted scenarios around Horn's stuff. With more comedy than tragedy, Bart Simpson is staked to a blood-spattered wall. Two angel wings grow from his back, and his eyes are obscured with cataracts of thick, sparkling white paint. Underneath, a plastic four-wheeler erupts with fake flowers and foliage while sprouting pikes displaying rubber monkey and skeleton masks. Down the way, Bart's buddy Krusty the Clown is similarly impaled.
In one of Horn's more minimalist pieces, a kid's plastic playhouse is painted gold, its roof liberally dusted with glitter to exaggerate the fairy-tale quality. Christ only knows how many toxic fumes Horn sucked in while spray-painting that structure. The house sits on a green island of pieced-together Astroturf. Inside, another gilded skeleton is sprawled on the floor like a Mother Goose character who met a bad end, his bones picked clean by the cute little cartoon birds from "Snow White." All the tiny niches of the house's interior are filled with gold-painted plastic toys: Winnie the Pooh, the M&M characters, Snoopy, random robots A stack of gold skulls rests in the cottage's play sink like someone has been doing the dishes. On the roof of the house is mounted a battery-operated chicken.
Horn's least successful works, built around pink and blue beds for kids (the target of 99 percent of all merchandising), aren't as over-the-top or as manipulated as the other works. A blue SpongeBob SquarePants comforter covers the "boy" bed, while a pink Powerpuff Girls spread adorns the "girl" bed. The girly piece is somewhat redeemed by the snickering juvenilia of two naked ethnic Barbies covered in sugary sparkles. I guess they aren't actually Barbies, per se, because their joints bend enough to allow Horn to arrange them in a lesbian 69. A crookedly parked pink glitter Barbie Corvette peeks out from under the bedspread as if the pair couldn't get home fast enough to get it on.
The show as a whole is caught in a sort of no-man's-land: It's too neatly presented and not quite excessive enough for the chaos effect, yet it's way too far gone for well-spaced aesthetic display. More pieces would push the obnoxiousness level even higher (in a good way), especially if they were scattered about, invading the viewer's space and impeding navigation of the gallery. The alternative would be to rigorously edit out the less successful sculptures and show the remainder in a more traditional format.
While a lot of the pieces are hit-or-miss, it's oddly refreshing to see someone vomit the contents of his studio directly into a gallery, and it's equally refreshing when the gallery lets him get away with it. It's hard to look at the masses of objects that constitute Horn's work without shuddering -- our culture is responsible for all this shit -- but there's a guilty pleasure in the sheer spectacle. How crass, horrible, cheap and badly made. How mass-produced, tacky and excessive And yet how wonderful.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.