Texas Biennial 2009 – DIY: Double Wide

This group exhibition spins an intriguing narrative of fusion and confusion

Arts Review

'Texas Biennial 2009 – DIY: Double Wide'

Women & Their Work Gallery

Through April 11

The creature on the canvas boasts one body, that of a hawk, but radiating from it are six other heads – those of a bear, an elephant, a wolf, a cougar, a warthog, and a ram – as if they've been grafted onto the bird of prey in some fiendish scientific experiment or else erupted there in a freakish mutation of nature. In either event, Jules Buck Jones' Warthogramhawk suggests a multiplicity of forms coming together in a single space that is disorienting or strange.

And it's not alone. Fusion and confusion pop up repeatedly in the 2009 Texas Biennial group exhibition showing at Women & Their Work. No sooner do you enter than Christie Blizard's installation, Everything Can't Happen at Once, hits you with a flurry of wildly diverse video images flipping past fast enough to give you whiplash. You're being welcomed into a world that's fragmented into shards moving almost beyond our ability to perceive them. That sense is reinforced in Kim Cadmus Owens' video, which refracts a journey through an urban setting into myriad tiny frames, all with different perspectives that change every few seconds. And though Olga Nicolaevna Porter's Traffic is a painting, its indistinct cars and trucks are moving away from and toward the viewer in the same lanes, as if merged in an automotive free-for-all, with every driver for himself.

Mythologies fuse and blur here, as well. Catherine Colangelo's intricate gouache homage to illuminated manuscripts uses Indian and Islamic patterns and designs to embellish the names of Transformer robots. Raymond Uhlir's two illustrative gouaches suggest some mythic narrative of a vaguely Eurasian fur-clad tribe and portentous birds where 19th century classical musicians incongruously appear. The nine standing figures in Morgan Sorne's installation, Sons of the Star, meld the weapons and clothing of ancient indigenous cultures with futuristic designs and a science-fiction setting.

I don't know that Biennial curator Michael Duncan saw our state as this jumble of odd amalgamations when he came here from Los Angeles; it seems to me the concerns being addressed by the artists here – technology, identity, the environment, a culture driven by information at a faster and faster pace – spread well beyond Texas' borders. But Duncan has pulled together artists of shared themes and approaches in a remarkably cohesive way. So many works seem to be in conversation with one another: Mona Marshall's painting Funnel, with its trailer homes uprooted in a furious white vortex, and Beau Comeaux's eerie photo, Kudzu, with the plant as conqueror, covering everything in its path, both speak to nature being more threat than threatened. The lush colors in Ryan Lauderdale's elaborate designs are the same as those in James Talbot's luxuriant beaded works, suggesting the richness of hue as its own virtue, a soothing salvation in this harried, mash-up world.

You can almost tease out a narrative as you walk through the gallery, one that moves from the stresses of our technologically fractured society to the enduring power of nature and the saving grace of pure, simple color. It's a rich, intriguing tale, and it comes with a somewhat surprising – and reassuring – ending. Among the last works are paintings by Kelly Fearing, the pioneering Texas modernist, and the way they portray mythology and the imposing character of nature and even vivid color fit smartly with the exhibit's other works. They're contemporary, only they're dated 30 and 50 years ago. The work in Texas in 2009 is vitally engaged with and speaks to a world that is troubled, the show seems to say, but we've been here before. And we've come through.

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Texas Biennial 2009, Michael Duncan, Jules Buck Jones, Christie Bizard, Raymond Uhlir, Ryan Lauderdale, Morgan Sorne, James Talbot

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