Ghost Stories: The Disembodied Spirit; Austin Museum of Art - Austen Texas

 

John Baldessari, STROBE SERIES/FUTURIST: GIRL WITH FLOWERS FALLING FROM MOUTH (FOR BOTTICELLI) # 1975, c-print


Going to the dentist is never seen as a positive activity. And I had had a dream just days before the visit in which a molar crumbled in my mouth like the last remnants of a Tic Tac, when you switch from sucking to chewing, and the breath mint breaks into a thousand white shards. In the dream, no matter how hard I tried, the remnants of the tooth/Tic Tac wouldn't or couldn't be exhumed from my mouth. Not really a nightmare but disturbing just the same.


Quick Cut - the Friday before Halloween, Austen, TX. I was planning to attend a group show at Arthouse that presumably had some Marcel Dzama's drawings, good Halloween "treats" any old day-when I was diverted to the Austin Museum of Art, to a small show, entitled "Ghost Stories: The Disembodied Spirit", curated by Allison Ferris. In the AMOA, a modest museum on the ground floor of a large office complex, steps from the Capital, I delved into the series of rooms thinking the subject too topical and narrative for real application in a contemporary. WOW! YIKES! BOO! My teeth are falling out! The first artist that I came upon after ubiquitously spotting a Crewdson peripherally, was Sally Mann, represented by two exquisite photographs: one architectural, the other more abstract. It was easy to see somehow see the ghostly relationship, the saturated "color" of these black and whites reeked "otherworldly".


The curatorial information on each artist was acute and made even the jaded position I was coming to the show with sympathetic toward looking at contemporary art with a new vision?towards the "Body and Spirit", but rather with a ghostly twist. That vision next hit upon the aforementioned Gregory Crewdson, and then Anna Gaskill, with resoundingly seen photographic images in a new, even more eerie, context.


A real gem by Diane Arbus followed with a beautiful silhouette photo of a building hanging on to its architectural life, and making a monumental stand, despite its modest size. Duane Michaels contributed a series of tiny frightening narrative photos titled "Me & the Bogeyman", in which a female child is harassed in her desk by a Kounellis like coat stand that transforms itself into the "Bogeyman", as horrible and scary as any street pervert or cyber-porn predator.


The conceptual apotheosis of the show came with the explosion of Mike Kelley's XXX, which is Mike meets Pettibon, meets Kosuth, meets Baldasari. (The Kelley was flanked by an excellent small Baldasari photo of a girl regurgitating an in tact bouquet of tulips?spectacular time-release use). Back to the Kelley. Seven black frames arranged in almost a cross like configuration with hand written, printed, and appropriated text from some type of hand book relating to XXX, the practice or spiritual happening that occurs when white Gooo exudes from the mouth of the inhabited (hence the Baldasari). Sadly the Francesca Woodman photograph was not included here. Her "Self Portrait: Talking to Vince", in which a stream of underwater bubbles protrudes from the artist's mouth is reminiscent of a teen practicing smoke rings, with an almost Surreal abhorrence of reality, but rested with her two other images in another room that more appropriately place her historical context.


Other surprises: an exquisite coupling of Glenn Ligon's "Untitled", two modest intaglio prints, composed of black text on black ground that cite Ralph Ellison's, Invisible Man's opening lines - more ghostly than any situation I've seen the artist or the piece curated.


The Cornelia Parker handkerchief was subtly genius. Using the cloth to rub the inside of the King, Henry VIII's suit of armor, the artist?s maneuver/ fetish revealed afterward a shroud-like image of dirt - ghostly saintly, religious, historically pugnacious, fanatically weird. You pick the phenomenon, much less the obsession.


Then Bruce Nauman was slipped in with his elevation experimental project via photo relic. As usual his humor begot the conceptual manipulation in the small double exposure relic. You don't believe it, and that's exactly the point, if not the beauty.


And Beuys, the captain of the "Free University" was regaled with one of his egalitarian prints (this one XX/ 250), celebrating a performance demonstrating human energy conduction. The photo/print/relic revealed a cropped version of Beuys's legs and his proletariat boots, which was rotated 90 degrees, so that the god of European art seems to rise above the nothingness that is his signature.


Finally, there was a diminutive Ann Hamilton that punctuated the show with a moody "experiment", where the artist poked a hole in the canister of film to expose whatever Arp or Ono results fo
und their way to film paper, in this case a murky image of the artist.


So what was not so successful? While necessary and understandably included, the "Spiritual Photos", the historical references, prints, and imprints, were too many, and far too redundant to really add to the show, its concept, and the application of the more interesting contemporary curation. And then most of the contemporary work was photography based, perhaps more suited to the ideas of the curation, while the contemporary work, which wasn't photographic based, was overly dramatic and less successful in its ultimate presentation beyond the idea of the Haunted House. And while I might not have quite believed the ?spiritual? inclusion of Moriko Mori's large photo triptych, entitled, XXX, I found the inclusion a stretch, definitely heartening, and weirdly inspiring. If Ghosts bring all of this to the "beggars banquet", then what else might be included? They say when your teeth crumble, it means someone is dreaming about you. Hmm . . . Spencer Finch, Todd Hido, Janine Antoni, Jane and Louise Wilson, Kiki Smith, Nari Ward , Anna de Mendieta. . .


Devon Dikeou
Austen, Texas
2004