The group show up at Brand 10 Art Space in Fort Worth through April 28, called Showmen, with work by artists Tim Best, Titus O’Brien, Tom Orr and Cameron Schoepp, walks an elegant line between merriment and confusion, with political undertones masked in saccharine sweetness. Loaded metaphors strut boldly through the show like brave men in tights.
Tom Orr’s installation on the front wall of the gallery, called “Leo, how are we going to beat the Russians?,”* shields a bank of troublesome windows while using the natural light to play through the varied plastics and fabrics that he has propped and rigged along the wall. Like most of Orr’s work, the installation here is a visual play of patterns and textures that fool the science of your eye into trusting surfaces that are full of trickery. A translucent corrugated plastic sheet set atop vertically black and white striped fabric creates faux space — a fuzzy, drunken place in your brain that your eyes struggle to free into clarity. Mirror tiles and sheets of mirror play the room back to itself in fractured notes, throwing light and making shadows, which allows the piece to operate the room with a passive kind of power.
Cam Schoepp’s beautiful wood and carpet sculptures, Bench/Place (Yellow, Green, Orange) and Bench/Place (Orange, Pink, White), set in the center of the gallery, take up the radiating energy of Orr’s work while creating their own sort of confusion. The wooden slab “benches” sit atop gorgeous handmade carpets with ripple motifs that wave out from the contact points of the benches. Given their setting here in the gallery, and given the buttery-perfect surface of the carpets, a viewer isn’t sure if one is allowed to step onto the carpets and venture a seat on a bench, so one doesn’t. I skirted well around the sculptures, resisting the urge to roll all over the rugs as if they were pools of taffy in Willy Wonka’s factory. And the benches, too, have an energy about them that beckons — interior painting between the wood slabs casts up color-glows of red and yellow — but the carpets act as a kind of visual fence around the benches, at once inviting and casting away, making the benches untouchable islands. The whole sculptural unit — bench and carpet — maintains a pristine isolation.
The two paintings by Titus O’Brien, Avatamsaka III and Avatamsaka IV, are montages of fractured architecture, fabric and shadow, full of Futurist era energy and exactitude. For all their jumbled, virile imagery, the paintings have this discerning, impeccable feeling — like consciously tousled hair or a perfectly rumpled linen jacket. They made me think of Kim Jong Il or Putin on holiday, manically sipping good champagne.
Tim Best’s photographs of empty candy wrappers in outstretched hands, floating in a bath with the clothed artist, and in the open mouth of a woman, all from his series “Stuff,” tease out the notions carried by the other three artists of decadent power — they’re not so much about consumption as the lack of need for it, a true decadence untouched by trivial necessity. There’s also the suggestion that powerful offers of delight and provision are usually empty.
In a video by Best called Megalomaniac, the camera traverses the vacant halls of an antiseptic hospital while famous quotes about war and fighting are dramatically read by the artist. Footsteps echo down the halls throughout the film, with the intermittent sound of helicopter propellers. Certainly more overt about ideas of power and control then the rest of the work in Showmen, Megolomaniac serves as emphatic punctuation at end of a thoughtful and incredibly deft show about those themes.
*As an anecdotal aside that bears mentioning, when I asked Orr about the title “Leo, how are we going to beat the Russians?” he said this: “The title comes from a greeting I got every morning from an old man I worked with at my uncle’s salvage company in the 1970’s: ‘Tommy boy, how are we going to beat the Russians?’ He was convinced that the Russians had beaten us in the space race with SPUTNIK in 1957 and that this might explain why the summers were so much hotter now. I heard this statement so much over the years that it became sort of comforting to me in an odd way. It was a strange way to start our morning conversation, but his question always seemed sincere and caring. Over the years I have used this same phrase in different situations. Now that I’m older, it’s the first thing that I say to my dog (Leo) every morning. The short explanation of the title— It’s about SPUTNIK, an old man and my dog.”
photos courtesy Brand 10, Cam Schoepp, Titus O’Brien and Tim Best.