Blaffer's Cups Runneth Over
The lady in heels knitted her brow, bent her knees and took a mighty swing, as if she were gunning for the 18th green at Augusta. There was a loud crack of coated plastic meeting painted wood as her ball caromed off the gaping maw of Elvis and ricocheted around like a hot-pink bullet before finally coming to rest on the playing surface of another hole, beneath a blubbery, ten-foot-tall balloon creature with many limbs and a sinister scowl. Heads up.
Art aficionados and miniature-golf freaks tend to run in separate circles, and this well-heeled chick had obviously never wielded a putter -- at least not the minigolf variety. While both "real" golf and midget golf have their subtleties, the latter invariably requires a feathered touch. Success on the junior links is measured in inches, not yards, and the bullish art babe was approaching "The King's Hole" -- Gregory Amenoff's par-three Presley tribute and the eighth cup at "Putt-Modernism: An Eighteen-Hole Miniature Golf Course and Exhibition" -- like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator crashing a tea party for the Queen. No, no, no.
"Putt-Modernism" is a semisuccessful merging of modern art and "baby" golf. The touring exhibit's threadbare and patchy in places -- its fake turf is balding, and many of the installations sport divots and dings courtesy of free-swinging art babes -- but its unkempt appearance can also be viewed as testimony to the show's popularity. And there's the ultimate point: What fun it is to tromp around on off-the-wall artwork by Houston's Mel Chin, cheese-doodle whiz Sandy Skoglund, Cindy Sherman and Nina Yankowitz.
But "Putt-Mod" has bigger problems than presentation. Most of the holes are too crudely simplistic to tickle the fancy of true minigolfers (Dina Bursztyn's "I Don't Think So"; Joan Snyder's "To the Pond and Painting"), and many others display the self-conscious pretension that so often overburdens contemporary art (Elizabeth Enders's snootily formalist "Patriarchy"; Chin's Gulf War-themed "Shelter," which is untimely and a little dumb except for the battle footage that flickers in the bottom of the hole as you retrieve your ball).
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Dallas Baptist Patriots Baseball
TicketsTue., Feb. 21, 6:30pm
Rice Owls Mens Basketball vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles Mens Basketball
TicketsThu., Feb. 23, 7:00pm
TicketsThu., Feb. 23, 8:00pm
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Southeastern Louisiana Lions Baseball
TicketsFri., Feb. 24, 6:30pm
You want a successful mating of art and minigolf? Test your mettle against some of the marvelously inventive, mischievously crafted holes in John Margolies's photo-intensive book Miniature Golf, a paean to lowbrow commercial art. Or play the handful of commendable highbrow holes at "Putt-Modernism." Best-of-show trophies go to:
*Yankowitz's "A Landscape and Metallic Topiary" (hole three, par three). Crafted from copper and aluminum shavings, this piece looks like an explosion in a Brillo factory; it's a real trick to shoehorn your sphere through one of the narrow slits in the tiny scouring-pad gate fronting the tee. The hole's central motif is a metalloid giraffe munching on what appears to be a disco ball. Whimsical.
*Elizabeth Murray's "Untitled" (hole four, par three). The least-adorned hole is arguably the most challenging. The simple straightaway is barred by a plug-ugly cast sculpture embellished with a dangling leaf of stone, and the player is forced to navigate his/her orb through a ball-sized tunnel. Deceptive.
*Skoglund's "Sketching with Cheese Doodles" (hole five, par two). The cup is stashed behind a revolving platform guarded by suspended animatronic bunnies -- all lavishly festooned, in classic Skoglund style, with radioactively glowing cheese snacks. With a little forethought, shooting for par is a no-brainer, but who can think amid the orange onslaught? Cagey.
*Pat Oleszko and Ward Shelly's "Censorama" (hole 14, par three). The aforementioned multi-armed hot-air balloon named "The Censor" dominates this visually arresting, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer swipe at the Far Right. Shoot left and you should -- ahem -- nail the cup in a couple of strokes; scoring activates a jiggling electronic pod of hard-nippled inflatable breasts. Titillating.
*Honorable mention: Chris Clarke's "Blood on Your Hands" (hole 18, par two). You won't need your club -- or two shots; if you fail to birdie this baby, it's your karma. The work excoriates former presidents Reagan and Bush for their (non)policies toward the AIDS epidemic. You can, too; just drop your ball in the medical-waste container and watch it shimmy down a crimson-neon ramp that leads to pay dirt -- and course's end.
-- Clay McNear
"Putt-Modernism" continues through August 9; Houston artist Tommy Fitzpatrick leads a tour at noon Thursday, June 25. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. University of Houston entrance 16 (off Cullen Boulevard), 743-9528. Viewing is free; the "putter" fee is $5, $3 for kids.
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