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The Spectacular of Vernacular on View at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston
Lari Pittman, Untitled #30 (A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation), 1994. Acrylic, enamel, and glitter on two wood panels, 83 x 160 inches © Lari Pittman. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.
HOUSTON, TX.- In an era of virtual neighborhoods and fast-paced Internet communication, The Spectacular of Vernacular addresses the role of vernacular forms in the work of 27 artists who utilize craft, incorporate folklore, and revel in roadside kitsch to explore the role of culturally specific iconography in the increasingly global world of art. Originally employed as a linguistics term, vernacular is now broadly applied to categories of culture, standing in for “regional,” “folkloric,” or “homemade”—concepts that contemporary artists have investigated since the late 1950s as part of a deeper consideration of the relationship between art and everyday life. For the artists included in the exhibition, aspects of the vernacular—and often specifically American vernacular—provide a platform for narratives of home life, social ritual, and sense of place. Drawing inspiration from such sources as local architecture, amateur photographs, and state fair banners, their work runs the aesthetic spectrum from sleek to handcrafted, underscoring the diverse manifestations of the vernacular within our lived environment and its impact on artists working today. The Spectacular of Vernacular is organized by the Walker Art Center and is curated by Darsie Alexander, Walker Chief Curator. The exhibition is on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston July 30-September 18, 2011.

Inspired by Mike Kelley’s observation that “the mass art of today is the folk art of tomorrow,” The Spectacular of Vernacular reflects an expanded view of the vernacular posited in Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, and Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972), one that embraces the spectacle of the street and the stylistic cacophony of the strip—the totems, billboards, and neon signs of roadside America. Thus amidst the visibly handcrafted works of Matthew Day Jackson and Dario Robleto are the dense and day-glow paintings of Lari Pittman, the glittering trophy heads of Marc Swanson, and the urban relics of Rachel Harrison. These works, and others in the exhibition, suggest a long road trip through the emblems and eyesores of street vernacular, replete with its tourist destinations and outmoded hotels. A strong showing of photographs informs the exhibition, including work by WPA-era photographer Walker Evans, as well as more recent work by William Eggleston, whose color-saturated images gravitate toward the tawdry palette of faded billboards and road signs. New to CAMH’s presentation of the exhibition is an additional work by Houston-based artist Robleto, The Minor Chords Are Ours (2010), and a 2001 sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Regression.

Through strategic selections that capture varied practices, the exhibition reflects artists’ equal fascination with rustic as well as urban vernacular, lending the installation a visually diverse and dynamic character. In a culture in which art is increasingly globalized in its look and dissemination, The Spectacular of Vernacular considers work that can be heavily narrated, highly personal, and laboriously produced.



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