meriwether wonder bread

Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz at The Joanna

[uds-billboard name=”DDDD”]How many recent exhibitions have you walked into and nearly stepped on a drawing done in mayonnaise of Edouard Manet’s Olympia on a carefully arranged grid of wonder bread on the floor in front of a fireplace painted gold? At The Joanna – a house turned alternative art space by artists Cody Ledvina and Brian Rod in March of 2007 – this encounter is only half surprising because regulars are used to the fact that the fireplace was painted gold sometime ago by Lane Hagood. The mayonnaise Manet by Nick Meriwether was brand new though, and just one contribution by the over 30 artists included in the 3rd annual sprawling, floor to ceiling, multi-room, cacophonous show, aptly called, Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz. “Show” instead of the fancy label “exhibition” is the right word for something that feels more like a one night performance really only meant to be seen at the opening – just ask the mayonnaise Manet, who was quickly half smeared on the floor as the crowd grew and grew and grew (and drank and drank and drank).

Located just down the street from the seemingly timeless, profoundly contemplative Menil Collection, The Joanna could be thought of as the yin to the Menil’s yang, or maybe the Menil’s “shadow self” since according to a promotional video, Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz was somehow curated by Carl Jung. The Joanna specializes in immediacy and a positive kind of anti-contemplation, often showing work by very young artists, or as Cody Ledvina put it best in an email, “FRESH MEAT.”

In the entry space, kicking off Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz, is a shiny banner hanging from the ceiling showing Carl Jung’s Sigmund Freud’s portrait reflected in an MC Escher-esque spherical ball. The banner blocks the view of a series of sculptures on pedestals running down the center of the room, flanked by walls stacked to the brim with drawings and paintings of galaxies, colorfully abstracted Rorschach tests, and a photo-collage of cough syrup bottles by Chris Cascio with the house’s occupant, Jack Eriksson’s boat shoes nailed to the wall underneath. The other three rooms of the house – Jack lives in the attic – are devoted to a film installation, a video, and more and more paintings and drawings. Some of the works on paper are curling and peeling off their thumbtacks in the humidity, while others are displayed flat on one giant table in a dense array with one painting hilariously propped up on a festive gourd. In another one of my favorite curatorial display decisions, a painting with the phrase “now what” cut out of an unstretched canvas is simply stuck to a ceiling fan and swirls frantically.

Though there were over 30 different artists, the show feels like it came from one collective mind with a deeply shared sensibility, indulging in the hypersexual and quirky one-liners. Cody Ledvina and Brian Rod’s curatorial editing and well executed, cohesive installation transforms the house into something that feels like an unrestrained, manic adolescent’s dream home. Although when looked at closely each artist’s work should be taken on its own terms, I was most impressed with Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz as something The Joanna can do that a museum with long lead times or a gallery with very valid concerns about salability cannot, which is tap into an immediate undercurrent by sticking a toe in Houston’s art bayou and seeing what comes out.

What sediment did Cody and Brian extract? The collective Exurb (Johnny DiBlasi, Steven Kraig, Patrick Renner, Sam Singh and Eric Todd), who had a recent installation at the Joanna, created another impressive work full of mechanical virtuosity that taps into the beauty of otherwise discarded technology. In the sculptural video film installation, 16mm and 8mm home videos homemade films that the artists bought off ebay are looped around a large metal frame and projected as a grid of four on a window. You can either watch the nostalgic looking films or just listen to the ticking sound of the reels of film as they advance along their lengthy paths, unconstrained from their normally tightly wound loops. Kelly Sears’ animation of the black and white illustrations from the Joy of Sex book performing the acts they depict, set to the soundtrack, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” has a comic and strangely sentimental quality. A first-year MFA student in painting at the University of Houston, Bradley Kerl has a couple standout paintings: in one, a still life of mundane objects that were probably sitting in his studio are painted in a kind of carefully naïve and loving detail. A couple other paintings of intergalactic expanses can’t help but catch your eye: one by Shane Tolbert is a deep magenta, purple, and black star scape on what appears to be stretched fabric, and another by Mark Hesterlee is more tongue-in-cheek of a sci-fi looking galaxy with a classic looking track-and-field hurdle placed dead center.

But covering Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz like a normal group exhibition – evaluated in terms of of a theme, quality of the individual work, and how it all relates to the theme – seems a little beside the point. Artists in their undergraduate work at the University of Houston to those in the MFA program to teachers with MFAs to Core program fellows at The Museum of Fine Arts, among many others, are all shown alongside one another without any checklists or labels to sort out who is who. At the opening, I found the anonymity gratifying and probably why it all felt to be an experience that was more valuable when viewed to be an ephemeral expression of a collective entity. It all seemed perfect for a place like The Joanna that is as much about social gathering, amassing like minds, and providing an open community for emerging artists as it is about anything else. Also, what can you really say about an exhibition where the bulk of one wall is devoted to a painting of a giant cockroach dreaming of a smaller roach dreaming of another roach dreaming of an MC Escher drawing dreaming of a joint?

Artists who contributed to Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz include: Rahul Mitra, Shane Tolbert, Gabe Martinez, Danie Heimbinder, Jon Read, Mark Flood, Isabella Nelson, Lauren Moya Ford, Jessica Ninci, Lester Marks, Tony Day, Kelly Sears, Erin Joyce, Russel Etchen, Anne J. Regan, Nick Meriwether, Chris Cascio, Bradley Kerl, Lane Hagood, Seth Alverson, Debrah Herrera, Richard Nix, Mauricio Menjivar, Exurb (Johnny DiBlasi, Steven Kraig, Patrick Renner, Sam Singh, and Eric Todd), Chris Sperandio, Abi Semtner, Katy Heinlein, Emily Link, Bill Willis, Darcy Rosenberger, Jack Eriksson, Sebastian Foray, Mark Hesterlee, Dylan Roberts, Caleb Churchill, Art Sandwiches (Matt Manalo, Jody Harris, Katie Mulholland, Mauricio Menjivar and Mike Smith), Harry Dearing III and Katie Mulholland.

Dis, Dat, Deez, Doz
was on view at The Joanna, in Houston, TX  November 18th – December  1st, 2011.

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  1. Robert Boyd

    Liked the review, but I have one quibble. What Exurb was working with was not video, but film. The two media are similar in that they are moving images, but different media in the same way that oil paint is different from fresco, and stone lithograph is different from silkscreen, and assemblage is different from carved marble statuary. Specifically, Exurb used 8mm and 16mm film shot in the 1960s as home movies. They are scratched and faded, and the condition of the film is part of the work. Also, the physical existence of the film is part of the work, since the piece has four large film loops running simultaneously, and the loops are physically part of the sculptural quality of the piece.

    • Josh

      Thanks for catching this, Robert! Very good point. That sentence should be corrected to read: “In the sculptural FILM installation, 16mm and 8mm homemade FILMS that the artists bought off ebay are looped around a large metal frame and projected as a grid of four on a window.”

  2. Katie Mulholland

    Really enjoyed this! However, (I hate to be THAT GUY…but)your contributor list is missing the names of a few artists. There are probably more than what I can offer you right now. here are a few, I hope this helps:

    Dylan Roberts, Caleb Churchill, The Art Sandwiches(Matt Manalo, Jody Harris, Katie Mulholland, Mauricio Menjivar,& Mike Smith) who contribulted to the “Wilson/JTT” Piece in the back yard, Harry Dearing III, Katie Mulholland, and Richard Nix.

    Thanks! Sorry to be a pain 🙂

    • Joshua Fischer

      THANK YOU, Katie! Any artists or people who know some of the artists who contributed to the show, please speak up. This list was difficult to compile, so I know there might be people missing.

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