Best Art Show - 2008
"The Old Weird America" at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006
With works including everything from square-dance dresses to Pilgrim mannequins to shadow puppets committing antebellum sodomy, "The Old Weird America" presented a weirdly insightful take on America. CAMH senior curator Toby Kamps honed in on bizarre strains of American folk culture in contemporary art and came up with a provocative collection of works that made viewers take a long, hard look at their cultural assumptions. Among the highlights was Cynthia Norton's Dancing Squared (2004), a sculpture that uses hidden motors to turn bouffant square-dance dresses into hypnotic hillbilly whirling dervishes. Meanwhile, Sam Durant salvaged hokey museum wax figures to present a revisionist history of the first Thanksgiving, an event that was more about genocide than intercultural potluck suppers. Even more unsettling, Kara Walker presented a video using vintage music and master-and-slave shadow puppets to create a disturbing and darkly satiric vision of the dark and disturbing Old South. Perhaps as an antidote to the imagery of Walker's work, Greta Pratt found and photographed contemporary Lincoln impersonators who come across as history-geek versions of a superhero.