Practice, Practice, Practice

Repetition isn't always good or funny, but in this show, it can change your point of view

Arts Review

'Practice, Practice, Practice'

Lora Reynolds Gallery

through June 27

Repetition is not necessarily a good thing. Or funny. That's worth noting here, because the ideas that practice makes perfect and things are funnier in threes are said to have been

the early inspirations for this group show. By the time curators Michael Smith and Jay Sanders got it installed at Lora Reynolds Gallery, however, they'd expanded the boundaries of the exhibition to encompass so many extensions of the original notions – threesomes in general, repetition, performance, timing, repetition, targets, self-improvement, repetition – that any expectation of this show delivering only the one-two-bada-bing! of a night in the Catskills (or, say, Smith's award-winning retrospective "Mike's World" at the Blanton Museum of Art) will be quickly confounded. Not that there isn't anything funny in "Practice, Practice, Practice" – any exhibition that includes photographic portraits of nine men just at the moment of orgasm definitely has a sense of humor. (And if you had any doubt as to the range of expressions that can cross a man's face as climax is reached – or just how goony they can be, Aura Rosenberg's Head Shots should settle the matter.) For the most part, the comedy tends toward the dry and requires a certain amount of patience to find: Ten of the show's 37 works are videos, more than half of which are 10 minutes or longer. (Full disclosure: I didn't see them all.)

Repetition is not inherently a good thing. Or funny, despite what comedy's Rule of Threes might suggest. Curators Smith and Sanders include in their group show "Practice, Practice, Practice" a triad of photographs by John Waters – yes, that John Waters – and while he has been known to crack wise on occasion, the images aren't comedic, at least not in the manner of a Hairspray or Polyester. And the third doesn't deliver that one-two-bada-bing! payoff of a Catskill comic's second-set closer. The way these three images in Waters' Marks series work collectively is to take us from seeing a thing one way, the way we're accustomed to, to a different way. In the first, we're mostly aware of looking at a floor on a set; we focus on the scuffed linoleum, the fringe of black curtain across the top of the frame, and the scattered pieces of tape that mark where the actors are supposed to stand when the scene is shot. Moving to the second, with what appears to be a huge roll of blue carpet through the middle of the frame, we become more conscious of the absence of people, that this was taken before or after the scene was shot, and those tape marks have no real purpose at this point; they're abstractions, and we begin to see the image from an abstract angle. By the time we hit the third, with its obvious grid pattern on the floor, we're inclined to read it first as an abstract image, looking at the placement of the tape as compositional elements disrupting the larger pattern.

Repetition is not always funny. Or a good thing. Keep making the same circle on the page of a composition book with a pen, and eventually you'll tear a hole through to the page below it (a principle that hasn't escaped Ken Morgan, whose deceptively simple and sly series of Multiple Page Drawings in "Practice, Practice, Practice" reference a similar scholastic vandalism). But sometimes that circling around and around and breaking through to a new level can be worthwhile. Case in point: Jim O'Rourke's film Not Yet, which takes snippets from Brian De Palma's 1981 thriller Blow Out and loops them for 18 minutes. De Palma makes a 360-degree pan of the workroom of a soundman (a young John Travolta), and O'Rourke repeats it again and again, putting us in this perpetual spin that's surprisingly captivating, as hypnotic as it is dizzying. Eventually, the images bleed away in orange-and-white light – but we're still conscious of that constant spiral. We go on and on and on and on.

Repetition is not in and of itself good. But that's life. Bada-bing!

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Practice, Practice, Practice, Mark Smith, Jay Sanders, Lora Reynolds Gallery, John Waters, Jim O'Rourke, Mike's World

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