Whenever I'm asked a riddle, I usually need to hear the question a few times while I try to figure out the answer, revisiting the prompt in hopes of finding clues before giving up. That's what Eric Zimmerman's new show at Art Palace feels like. "Endless Disharmony and Telltale Ashes" is a confounding, skillful, frustrating, and intriguing riddle of a conceptual art show that sticks with you for days while you try to sort it all out.
The exhibition is just one part of the concept, which also consists of a now-ended show of related works at Dallas's Reading Room called, conversely, "Telltale Ashes and Endless Disharmony," and a tumblr of image and sound media. The Houston show itself consists primarily of two things -- graphite drawings and collages.
The graphite drawings are intricate reproductions of disparate objects. There's a bison carcass, a replica of the cover to René Daumal's Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, the record "Dream Baby" by Roy Orbison, a reproduction of one of the French painter Théodore Géricault's limbs still lifes, and a hand performing a magic trick with a coin.
(The phrase "Telltale Ashes" is a reference to a magic trick as well, though it's mostly referenced in name. The trick by Houdini consists of, ultimately, the performer burning a slip of paper with the answer to a card trick and rubbing the ashes on the back of his hand while the card appears in black letters.)
Where the graphite drawings are exact, even down to the wear on the cover of Mount Analogue, the collages take photographs of landscapes, wood cutters and destroyed houses from old National Geographics and rearrange them into something alien -- all jagged edges and messy swirls of greens, browns, and whites. They are the ashes, trying to reveal something that has been destroyed.
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Zimmerman gives us even more clues, including two zines containing text, definitions and images referencing those used in the show. Though, just as pieces of art on their own merit, the graphite drawings work best, especially Endless (Disharmony), a drawing that features a cassette tape exposed, the top half removed so that we can see the loop of tape inside, slipped off its roller. Zimmerman drew this, so he could have easily kept his loop perfectly intact, endlessly going from beginning to end and back again. But this is all about disharmony and feeling out of place.
So much of this show feels out of place, in a sense, due to its 20th century antiquity -- the visual references to cassettes and records, the early 20th century novel Mount Analogue, even the zines. Its link to the modern day is the tumblr account, which even then is used as a depository for recordings of Roy Orbison songs and the original National Geographic photographs.
There's still even more to the show to digest, so the question is, do you have the time to devote to this riddle? The show unfairly demands a lot of its audience -- ideally, you would have attended both the Dallas and Houston shows (likely multiple times) and visited the tumblr to experience the full dialogue. And even then, the bigger picture is still murky. My feeling is, most visitors won't have the patience for this wormhole, which I'm still knee-deep in and trying to find my way out.
"Endless Disharmony and Telltale Ashes" at Art Palace, 3913 Main Street, runs now through October 27. For more information, call (281) 501-2964 or visit artpalacegallery.com.