When an art show about boredom begins with the warning, "Viewer discretion is advised," you can rest assured it'd be anything but boring.
In "Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom," the main show currently up at Lawndale Art Center, curator Katia Zavistovski brings together six artists who address boredom in their work, whether through the pieces' repetitiveness or as a distraction from boredom.
From the get-go, the show seems pretty sparse, though there's a lot to unpack among the drawings, video and sculpture present. Upon entering the gallery, the first thing you hear are the words "art," "work," "hard," and "work" repeated in a robotic-like chant from somewhere, but we'll get to that later.
Chris Akin's works stands out for its reference of another Houston art institution -- the Menil. A guard at the museum, Akin says he's "spent a lot of time looking at the floor." Using that as inspiration, he's mapped out areas of the Menil's gallery spaces from his various perspectives. The most effective of these works is a two-year series that depicts the Menil floor plan. The shape of the floor is tilted at an angle, turning it into a piece of abstraction, and is repeated six times in black, green, grey and yellow, as if Akin's returned to it and wanted to depict a different mood.
Jeremy DePrez tackles boredom head on by replicating the spiraling scribble from one of his notebooks. In a clever, playful conceit, he's turned a 6 ½-inch doodle into a 6 ½-foot oil painting. The mindless, unconscious, typically insignificant act of doodling becomes monumental, and through the act of painting gives it this funny, unexpected reverence.
Rounding out the paintings is the lone inclusion by Seth Alverson -- an oil painting of an empty red leather chair. In this case, the subject matter itself is boring. This is a risky choice -- can the work itself rise above the inherent banality of its subject? In this case, the piece is saved by the rusty, blood red of the chair, which is an unusual, intriguing choice.
Boredom is often measured in the passage of time -- or seeming stoppage of it -- a topic explored in Uta Barth's photographs. This is a difficult thing to convey, but in two similar works, she manages to capture the ephemeral quality of sunlight as it moves like an unsteady cardiogram across a curtain. The images themselves seem to be barely there.
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Video artist Jenny Schlief turns the camera on what's just in front of her -- her young children. Kids are constantly entertained, whether it's by toys, TV or their own imagination. They should not know boredom. In Schlief's videos, they are wrapped up in their own mindless activities. In one, her son and daughter dance in the shower wearing animal masks. In another, her daughter shakes it to Vivaldi's "Spring," playing from a toy ark, while Schlief says "I am making art" over and over again in a nod/ode to John Baldessari's self-conscious performance art. It is all so delightfully, giddily absurd.
Whereas Schlief's works can be enjoyed without any introduction, Clayton Porter's have a backstory that needs to be shared to really resonate and have meaning. For instance, Anal Patina isn't just a stationary bike with a curious bronze seat anymore once you learn that he rode more than 650 miles -- naked -- on the bike (there's photographic proof). Similarly, eight plaster of Paris casts of melted butter that line the window are seemingly nothing more until you find out Porter's process. That's revealed discreetly through three inward-facing TV screens that are the source of the spoken words "artwork" and "hard work." SPOILER ALERT: Each screen shows a video of the artist placing his erect penis onto butter, causing it to melt. (That's where the viewer discretion is advised). Once you get over the unexpected imagery, it's a process not unlike watching paint dry. It's boredom in the flesh.
Zavistovski has really landed on something here, taking a topic we're all intimately familiar with and making it alternately humorous, poignant and thought-provoking. Though for all its inspiration, I feel like the Lawndale show could have been bigger. A similar exhibition that comes to mind is the Menil's "Silence," which explored the full depths of its theme. Of course, something on that giant of a scale is difficult without significant art world connections. But I feel like some stones could be unturned, or at least more of the large space used to explore the art of boredom.
"Staring at the Wall: The Art of Boredom" at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main Street, runs now through January 12. For more information, call 713-528-5858 or visit www.lawndaleartcenter.org.