The Curbside Critique

Mention the outdoor "Journey: Sculpture 2000" exhibit, and you'll probably be greeted with perplexed stares. But refer to the giant rusty metal sculpture on the west side of Allen Parkway as "Pinhead from those Hellraiser movies," and people will know exactly what you're talking about. Jim Robertson's Wildman is just one of the many sculptures to be found in Sam Houston and Buffalo Bayou parks for Houston Sculpture 2000, a biannual gathering of more than 1,000 sculptors from around the world.

The conference allows sculptors to "make people who do similar things, and tell a lot of painter jokes," says Ben Woitena, who put together "Journey," one of nearly 75 exhibits planned in conjunction with the sculpture conference. "I wanted to put together a program consisting of artists not affiliated with galleries, but still known," Woitena says, pointing out how his selection process differs from the four main downtown displays set up by HS2000, which represent gallery artists from East, West and Central Texas. So far, public reaction has been good. In one incident, passengers on a city bus forced the driver to pull over so they could step outside and admire the artwork.

In addition to Wildman, other pieces in "Journey" include Katria Bastian Scott's Simplicity, referred to by joggers and commuters as "the giant acorn," and Lincoln Schatz's Harbor Flow, or "the funny silver lilly pads" to the uninitiated. But by far the most popular piece is Anthony Cafritz's Sam's Choice, an assemblage of silage bales and large plastic target animals. Just look for the five game animals balancing by their noses on five giant marshmallows with their asses pointed indecorously in the air.

Everyone you ask about the sculptures remembers a different creature -- some of which aren't even there -- but the artist sees one underlying concept to his work.

"Metaphorically, it's about Wal-Mart, and the idea of the commodification of American culture, where you lose identity for luxury and ease and convenience," explains Cafritz, who got the idea for the piece when he saw the stacks of bales on the Vermont countryside, creating a surrealistic landscape (the title itself refers to Wal-Mart's mega-wholesaler Sam's Club). "The bales are an organic thing wrapped in plastic, and...the target animals represent something organic, but are also artificial, so there's a sort of tension between inversions." Also, having the animals stand on their heads gives the piece the added quality of debasement Cafritz wanted.

Symbolism be damned, some Houstonians would just as soon make road kill out of Cafritz's sculptural critters -- and all the rest of the outdoor artwork for that matter.

"I think they're stupid," says jogger Kathi Craig, noting that the "cows" were agreeable. "They should take them all down. They detract from the park."

Friend Jacquelyn Azore agrees. "I can see sculpture being here, but they should choose something more cheerful."

Leave it to Limby Gennusa to find the silver lining in these dark sculptures: She likes the "one with the bears." She thinks, "They're cute. They remind me of my little girls."

James Merrit pulled over to take a closer look after he had driven past the sculptures a few times, originally mistaking the silage bales for the polar bears from the Coke commercials. Up a ways at Sam Houston Park, there is Jesse Lott's Spirit of the West, a life-sized horse made of mild steel and stainless steel wire. "Is the bird's nest part of it?" Merrit snaps, pointing at the wad of twigs where the horse's brain should be.

Artists don't seem to mind the different public reactions. "They're all good," Cafritz says. "A successful piece draws you in and hits you in different ways." Cafritz meant his piece to be campy, yet surrealistic. "A sense of humor can be serious."

In case you're interested, those plastic archery targets are mountain goats and black bears.

Journey: Sculpture 2000 can be seen along the west side of Allen Parkway and south side of Memorial Drive between Waugh Drive and downtown. Opening ceremonies for Houston Sculpture 2000 will take place at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, in Sesquicentennial Park, Bagby and Preston. The East Texas exhibit can be seen at One Houston Center, 1221 McKinney, and Gardens at the Park Shops, 1200 McKinney. Central Texas is at One Allen Center, 1600 Smith. West Texas at the Barbara Davis Gallery/Pennzoil Place, 711 Louisiana. Exhibits open Tuesday, May 30. For more information, call (713)861-8087.

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Dylan Otto Krider