Taken together, DiverseWorks' two current shows, "To 25!" and "David McGee: El Soñador Elegante," are one part historical document and one part folktale. They represent DiverseWorks' 25th anniversary as an organization, both literally and symbolically.
Sometimes it's hard to throw a rock and hit someone who hasn't performed, shown work, organized a show or volunteered at DiverseWorks. As co-curator Patricia Hernandez writes in the gallery notes, "It's felt like we've all swum in the same pool of water." I've dipped my toes in that pool a handful of times, performing with Infernal Bridegroom. I used to see boxes and boxes of files when I was backstage (which is actually the staff's offices). There were stacks of archived promotional materials, event invitations, flyers and posters. During downtime, I looked through them. I imagined they were being saved for some kind of retrospective exhibit, and now here it is in the subspace.
It's easy to lose track of time browsing the rows of specimens documenting practically every event or happening that has occurred at DiverseWorks since 1985 — every art exhibit, every performance, every fund-raiser, every social event. It's interesting to see how the publicity changes, the layouts, the calendars. There's even a table of promotional slides lit from underneath and viewable with a loupe. If you've got all day, there are shelves of press clippings in binders to search through; a table and two chairs have been provided for comfort.
"To 25!" and "David McGee: ElSoador Elegante"
DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway, 713-223-8346.
Through October 20.
Troubling moments pepper the exhibit. Rachel Hecker's exterior work Censorship, a male with conservative haircut being punched in the face by a gloved fist, became an icon of DiverseWorks. Sadly, the piece was stolen and never recovered. One flyer, from 1986, hypes a "Meet Spalding Gray" book signing, sponsored by DiverseBooks. There's an "aw, man" moment when one is reminded of Gray's recent suicide.
The main gallery foyer is a kind of preparatory room for David McGee's "El Soñador Elegante" (The Elegant Dreamer). McGee's beautiful watercolors, big dramatic images with a title underneath, have a graphic quality to them, like minimalist posters. These works echo the pieces exhibited in his 2005 "Black Narcissus" show at Texas Gallery.
Two side-by-side works, together titled Sancho, blend gymnastics with old racist imagery. There's a black chef holding up a gymnast in a "splits" position with the word "Borges." To its left is "Kafka," a contortionist, balancing on her head a candlestick crowned with a white-aproned "Mammy" figurine.
Are you following? McGee is playing a connect-the-dots game. It might go something like this: Franz Kafka was an influence on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who once wrote a review of a nonexistent book about a Frenchman who attempts to rewrite Cervantes's Don Quixote and pass it off as his own. This explains the photograph of DiverseWorks founder Charles Gallagher, layered in symbols and titled Alonso Quijana (Quixote), hence the previous work Sancho. In this account of the Legend of DiverseWorks, Gallagher represents the errant knight who "dreamed the impossible dream." Thankfully, no audio samples from Man of La Mancha have been piped into the gallery. No, if this exhibit had a sound track, Ennio Morricone would have been its composer.
Nearby, there's a large watercolor, El Despertar ("The Awakening"), of what might be an ancient soldier fighting a centaur. The half-man-half-horse has been forced to the ground and is close to defeat. Next is Reinaldo Arenas, an image that is challenging to fully grasp. It's obviously a bull in some kind of violent effort. It references the openly gay Cuban writer who rebelled against Castro. Julian Schnabel immortalized him in the film Before Night Falls, based on Reinaldo's autobiography.
Moving into the main gallery, there's El Moor, a striking watercolor of a horse's skeleton with a bloody sword running through it, which might be a reference to El Cid. The battle theme reemerges, suggesting the organization's struggles.
The name "ROSINANTE" whooshes across one long wall of the main gallery, alluding to Quixote's trusted horse.
A huge, deconstructed windmill anchors the room. Visitors can duck inside it and view a video with an audio loop. The video imagery is seemingly random: lingering shots of a doorway, footage of James Baldwin smoking, scores of windmills, YouTube animation and scenes from Citizen Kane, The Seventh Seal and Wings of Desire, as well as clips from DiverseWorks' performance archive.
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So there's logic here, but only so far. A series of random symbols rounds out the space, beginning with four bars in the shape of a cross, with a dot where they would intersect — kind of like the Blue Öyster Cult symbol without the upside-down question mark. The west and north bars are red; the east and south bars blue. The dot is black.
Next, there are the numbers "6 3 9 5," a giant black rectangle with red, blue and white circles, then four incomplete circles and finally 19 black dots. McGee might be commenting on the nature of criticism or the need to find meaning, or a system, in what might be inherently meaningless.
Finishing up the tale is The Seventh Seal: seven tall wooden poles with black boxing gloves attached at the top and held together with a rope, leaning against the wall. Could it be a reference to Hecker's iconic Censorship?
On the way out, take a close look at "Valencia Dulcinea del Taboso." Dulcinea was the object of Quixote's love, and here she's represented by a bulbous female form. But what's that tiny picture plastered to her breast? It's a miniature "Censorship," maybe the most overt reference to DiverseWorks in McGee's exhibit, and it's sweet. It's proof that while DiverseWorks has grown as an organization and ballooned in reputation (like Quixote himself), it hasn't lost sight of its dreams.