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Went to the NeoHooDoo opening last night. This is curator Franklin Sirmans’ first big show at the Menil.

Here is the question for a show about spirituality: who is expected to be having the spiritual experience? The artists? The viewer? Either, as long as they’re open for it? (In the case of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Go-Go Dancing Platform, is it the young male dancer, or the audience who raptly watches his silver hotpants? Now we’re talking!)

Marepe, Aureolas (Halos), 2004.

I’m not sure viewing NeoHooDoo is a transcendent or spiritual experience, though to be fair, a crowded summer art opening with suntans and chitchat may not be the ideal milieu for that kind of thing. The problem with the theme is that you’re analyzing each piece, looking for that spirituality angle that Sirmans must have felt marked it for inclusion. When the show’s tagline tells you this is “Art for a Forgotten Faith,” you can’t really wander purposelessly along, a blank slate ready to be struck by the wonderful and unexpected. (The same, come to think of it, is true of the Menil’s well-meaning but overthought Wunderkammer.)

That said, what’s great about this show (and I think it’s great) is the collection of objects themselves. It’s a strange, compelling mix, and it’s almost all good. And it demands a slow, quiet viewing.

The catalog is beefy with essays, including a lovely one by Greg Tate that comes off as a spoken word-type rant, but smart and non-irritating, unlike lesser examples of the genre.

Interesting that two good shows in Houston right now, NeoHooDoo and Old, Weird America at CAM, are both about American funkiness. (Isn’t Saatchi collecting art by Americans about American history right now?)

Anyway. What with the outstanding drawing show recently and the return of intellectually hefty smaller shows, the Menil is officially on a roll. Josef Helfenstein may not play politics and fundraise with the best of ‘em, but goddamn, he has quietly sparked the soul of an institution that badly needed it.

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7 Responses

  1. Rainey

    I chatted with a couple of people yesterday about this show. Some consensus opinions:

    1. The show is beautifully installed (*something* is going on over at the Menil, because this, the drawing show, and the Bruce Nauman were all superior installations…)

    2. Nobody understands why the James Lee Byars brass ring is included. Lots of other things also have a tenuous relation to the concept of faith.

    3. Mixed opinion as to the theme. Unanimous opinion as to how good the show looks overall.

  2. tobrienwriter

    but how can you have a show about spirituality in art and NOT have a JL Byars in it? And the ring is the ultimate symbol, in a number of faiths…

  3. tobrienwriter

    I forgot about that one. I wuz thinking of some other things, But LOTR probably has the most devoted cult.

  4. Rainey

    Next to World of Warcraft, which after researching I decided, regretfully, I just don’t have the time for…

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