“Mark Fox: Dust” at Rice Gallery

by Laura Lark June 18, 2008

Dust, installation view

Honestly? My first thought when I saw Mark Fox Mark Fox installing Dust as this year’s Summer Window Series at the Rice University Art Gallery? Too bad the Pradafication (you know what I mean) of the art world has made good old-fashioned vitrine installation inconsequential…

How’s a simple visual artist supposed to compete with the wonders of Rem Koolhaas? And when you sit back and watch the recent semi-conceptual blast of shameless consumerism from Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami unfold before the gaping collective maw, you begin to wonder how any gallery or museum installation can ever have much impact. If you can’t buy a handbag or be served dinner, is it really art? I recently re-watched the Murakami video on YouTube called Superflat Monogram, in which a cartoon girl stands before a real Louis Vuitton boutique, only to have her phone, and then herself, sucked up into the belly of one of Murakami’s creepy, big-headed panda type things. After being regurgitated onto the sidewalk by the friendly creature, she smiles wistfully and walks away from the store. I have no idea what to make of that, although if I did, I’m not sure I’d want to go there. I get the feeling that even Warhol might cringe.

Dust, detail

Of course, the Rice University Art Gallery doesn’t aspire to Prada-dom (you know what I mean), but because the gallery, closed off until the fall’s exhibition, looks like a huge display case, it’s hard to avoid the association. Dust, on view there through the summer, nevertheless manages to transcend it both by its lowbrow, painstakingly handmade quality and by the desultory character of the “goods” on offer.

is a huge collection of drawings, on stiff black paper with graphic white lines, of everything that Fox has had in his studio. Each item is drawn to scale, from the stereo speakers to the Christmas lights to the router. Cartoonish in quality, the renderings are often amusingly quirky in themselves. But when you stand there and wonder what the funky puppets, clown masks on sticks, pasta claws and broken musical instruments are doing in 2D form, you really begin to get Fox’s humor. Like, isn’t his studio cluttered enough without duplicating everything? A lone sock on the gallery floor, separated from the other detritus on the wall, was a forlorn reminder of every piece of junk I’ve ever collected, ever delighted in and never could throw away.

Dust, detail

Fox’s objects are graphically illustrated, but he backs each one with a fluorescent green and attaches them to wires so that they are suspended away from the wall, thus imparting an eerie glow. Even nicer is the way the drawings gather in a dense swarm at the top, much like a cloud of dust. The greenish cast and airy quality of the pieces work well in the space and the whole thing has an appropriately cool, summery feel — a beach read in 2 and 3D.  

The installation stands on its own, but learning that Fox runs a puppet company, Saw Theater, added another layer to the playful, wire-suspended work in the window. At first, I caught myself wishing that a sample of the puppetry had been shown amidst the drawings. But really, anything in motion behind that glass might have made me think of creepy cartoon pandas, and I’ve had too much of that.

Laura Lark is an artist and writer in Houston.

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