Caught, read, handed

There are some dead animals in the entrance room at Sala Diaz. The fanned-out feathery mess of a squished bird, a lifeless squirrel in the road, their post-mortem portrait photos reproduced in grainy black-and-white, like mimeographed relics of a particularly curious boy whose outlines you can almost make out; poking, almost reverently, with a stick. A small, rectangular display case highlights, among other things, Polaroid photos of mice caught in neck-breaking traps. I thought of my brother at age 8 or so, thrilled at finding some lifeless critter, a partial mockingbird our cat had dispatched. I remembered his excitement, his daring gesture, his willingness to look, his muted sadness, too: Gross! Look!

Then there’s Karen Allen. Many, many film stills of the actress best known as the female lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark, each a high-gloss snapshot, Scotch-taped (I’m guessing) in a workmanlike sort of way, all over the walls of the gallery’s left-side room. None are head shots, or recognizable portrayals of her plucky Raiders heroine; instead, there are approximately 17 to 20 separate images (Karen in blue light, Karen wide-eyed and razor-featured, Karen mid-speech, Karen thinking, or half-blurred in motion) each repeated many times, as though a neighbor had caught her unawares as she lived some heightened, moodily lit life.

There are instructions, too, painted crudely on placards, reading, “THE RULES: 2. NO ANSWERS,” or “THINGS WERE FUCKED. / THINGS ARE FUCKED. / THINGS COULD BE FUCKED / THINGS WILL BE SHIT.”

And what these have to do with the pile of entwined jumper cables on the Karen Allen room’s floor, almost writhing sexually, Ouroboros-like, in your peripheral vision as you gaze around at all those Karens, I don’t know. And I’m puzzled, too, by the poetry of a green sphere speared and mounted on a pole to a little ottoman-like object, and wearing a handknit sailor’s cap attached to the back of the globe’s “head” with colorful ribbons. There’s something bodily, something medical, going on, maybe.

In the hall, a series of witty, brutish line drawings adorn printed bank-overdraft notices, many of the overdrafts for under-$5 purchases at convenience stores or fast-food franchises. The drawings — potential domestic disturbances, arguments, limp-dicked lonely dudes — enact hieroglyphcs of some overdrawn interior life.

Somehow, I don’t feel like I should be telling you all this. I don’t know Dave Bryant, but what with all the dead stuff and obsession and block-printed instructions, I’m a little freaked-out by whatever his deal might be. But whatever it is, the root obsession underlying all these other obsessions, it’s captivating. However, the foreboding and scabrous enigmatic allure of this one-man show also dissolved into laughter — it helped that I saw the show with three women. We were let into the gallery and wandered around together, mumbling bits of conversation.

“Dead bird.”


“Old Playboys!”

A 1980-era Playboy was left on display, Debbie Harry on the cover. We flipped through it, at first just looking for naked Debbie, but then took an interest in the whole experience of the thing, noted that almost all the ads were for cigarettes or liquor, laughed at the sex-toy ads, and the ads for books on how to pick up women (fail-proof opening lines to use on classy broads in art galleries!), all this evidence of male (hetero-)sexual obsession, frustration, even potential menace, denatured, frozen, rendered almost-endearing.

There is a stack of old Playboys in the room with the Karen Allens, too, weighed down (caught, in a way?) by several starkly beautiful marble tiles, highlighting antiquity, artifact, relic. One of the women I was with remarked that she’d buy that piece, if she had a lot of money.

I wasn’t in attendance at either of the opening receptions for Don’t Get Caught, and can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. Also, it surely would have felt different to see the show with anybody male. As it was, we girls poked around, sweated, laughed, but not too loudly, then got the hell out of there, as though we might wake somebody up.

If you have any questions after reading this review, you should go take a look for yourself.

Dave Bryant: Don’t Get Caught
Through May 24
Sala Diaz
210) 852-4492
517 Stieren

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