The fact that Guillermo del Toro, master of the horror genre, is a fan of Steve Burdniak's work tells you a lot about the Austin artist's work. Burdniak's assemblages use real human blood, mummified squirrels, octopus tentacles, centipedes and gyrating Mercedes hubcaps to create a mad scientist's lair befitting one of del Toro's films at Avis Frank Gallery.
The show, called "The Science of Surrealism," spans more than 20 years of the artist's celebrated career. And thanks to the timing of a new book of the same name, each piece is accompanied by engrossing stories by the artist explaining the spiritual inspirations, biological curiosities or just plain chance discoveries that helped the pieces come together.
The text is especially helpful in breaking down peculiar works such as Zeitgeist. Pulling back the chamber and bronze cast doors of the assemblage reveals a mummified squirrel, eternally fixed in the sad, broken state Brudniak found it in under his home. It's one of the artist's favorite pieces -- one he pulled from a private collection in a show made up mostly of unsold works just to have included here.
The wall text is also helpful in providing instructions for fully experiencing the works. Many of the pieces on display demand some participation from viewer, whether it's opening the doors of Zeitgeist to the hands-on Ulteriaphobia. The self-described "altar to anxieties" invites you to put your hands on a giant pair of handprints in the cast concrete. If you feel any foreboding sense of hesitancy, your fear is confirmed as, thanks to a nerve stimulator, you're rewarded with a continuous jolt of a low current. It's oddly gratifying.
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Other works can instill fear in you without the threat of physical pain, just a clever illusion. The Gulf of Pandemonium features a safe door portal, cast concrete and some centrally placed motor oil placed right on the gallery floor so that looks like it leads to a hellish abyss.
And that's how it goes throughout much of the show -- works that alternate between being disturbing and exhilarating. There are plenty more works to talk about, but that would just ruin the surprise.
"The Science of Surrealism" at Avis Frank Gallery, 1606 White Oak Drive, runs now through June 5. For more information, call 713-231-8967or visit www.avisfrank.com.