Tall Tales and Stories of Home: Max Marshall and Lauren Walker at TCU

by Jessica Fuentes February 14, 2023

Though this year’s MFA Candidacy exhibition at Texas Christian University (TCU) features only half the number of artists as last year’s show, Max Marshall and Lauren Walker fill the space well with their unique quirky works and a large-scale collaborative installation. The show’s title, Criss Cross Applesauce, hints at the kind of works you might expect to see — playful, amusing, and maybe even campy. As an educator, the term quickly brings to mind rowdy kids hurriedly forming a group, sitting on a rug with their legs crossed as they await storytime. This kind of narrative tale is exactly what Marshall and Walker have in store for their audience.

Entering Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, you are immediately greeted by Marshall’s work, which features a large cutout silhouette of a cowboy standing next to an installation of a West Texas landscape. The installation includes a long fabric backdrop with a light blue sky, dark blue mountains, and a warmly colored desert. On its own, the scene would feel like a billboard promoting the freedom of the West. But, the installation also includes an array of objects that disrupt the wide-open space depicted in the backdrop. 

An installation image of works by Max Marshall.

Max Marshall, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?,” on view at TCU’s Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, 2023.

The ground is filled with layers of various shades of sand, a sculpted rock and cacti, a cow skull, and a pair of stilts with oversized boot footprints as feet. To the left of the installation, a plaster print of one of the stilt shoes hangs on the wall. Alongside each of Marshall’s pieces is a narrative label, affixed to wood, that tells a tall tale about the individual pieces making up the work. The labels’ phrasing and the tone — cheerful and theatrical  — furthers the mood of a roadside attraction as opposed to a traditional gallery space. 

On the adjacent wall are four framed drawings of cartoonish cowboys, each with their own playful origin story. Nearby, a larger-than-life cowboy hat hangs on a column and a massive metal spur sits on the floor. In an old west font, large text spans the two walls of this section of the exhibition and asks, “Where have all the cowboys gone?”

Marshall’s work has a lighthearted appeal; it is successful in capturing the Disneyfication of the West and the myth of the cowboy in a tone that is simultaneously filled with admiration and critique. As a longtime resident of Fort Worth, a city that boasts the motto “Where the West Begins,” I can fully relate to the dichotomous feeling of appreciation for traditions and disdain for the overly-simplified, condensed history of the West, which often leaves out much of the nuance and truth of the real history of the people who were here before us. 

A photograph of a collaborative installation by Max Marshall and Lauren Walker.

A collaborative installation by Max Marshall and Lauren Walker, on view at TCU’s Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, 2023.

Across the gallery from Marshall’s solo section of the show sits the large collaborative installation she made with Walker. The piece combines themes in Marshall’s work related to the myth of the West with Walker’s exploration of femininity, sexuality, and shared domestic space. A Miller Lite and Lone Star beer can chandelier hangs over a living room scene, which is filled with an array of familiar and absurd objects, including a brown floral fabric couch, a wood pallet coffee table, and a red Igloo ice chest as a side table. Brightly painted dildo sculptures hang, stiffly, on a gun rack-like wall organizer. I particularly enjoyed the blue jean rug, assembled to mimic a traditional cowhide. Like Marshall’s installation, this funhouse version of a southern interior feels both irreverent and affectionate.

An installation image of paintings and small sculptures by Lauren Walker.

Work by Lauren Walker, on view at TCU’s Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, 2023.

In the space adjacent to the shared installation, Walker presents her solo work, which features seven paintings of various interior scenes, as well as several small ceramic pieces sitting atop paintings, scattered on the gallery walls, and hanging from the ceiling. Walker’s focus on the domestic space is reminiscent of other TCU graduates, including Tiffany Wolf Smith, however Walker’s painting style is looser and her take on domesticity explores a queer narrative. 

Walker presents various commonplace household scenes, including a dining table, a bathroom sink, a vanity, and a pink-tiled bathroom featuring familiar patterns and textures. Amidst these spaces she presents some expected items, like a pair of pink toothbrushes in a cup on the sink, and perhaps some unexpected ones, like clothes scattered across the room and a bright pink vibrator on a wooden vanity. 

The array of ceramic pieces disrupt the gallery setting, turning it into a lively space to present her paintings. Like a game, the sculptures slowly reveal themselves to the viewer; up close, the pieces hanging on the white walls are the most obvious, but stepping back, the bright pink outlet wall plates on the gallery’s floorboards become apparent. Looking around, other elements pop out, one of my favorites being the sculpted pink toothbrush adhered to an air conditioning vent near the ceiling. 

Though Walker and Marshall work in two differing styles and approach distinct themes in their work, they have found common ground. Typically MFA Candidacy exhibitions present works by multiple artists, but instead feel like individual solo shows within a shared space. Walker and Marshall’s decision to create a collaborative piece not only helps unite the show, but also pushes each of the artists’ works in new and different ways.


Criss Cross Applesauce is on view through Saturday, February 18 at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts on the TCU campus.

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