Art Capades: Was ist das?

Was ist das?
Sometimes it's hard to tell if a work of art is intentionally malfunctioning or if, left in the hands of a volunteer attendant, entropy has had its passive way with it. So it is with "Shanti," one of a handful of mysterious art assemblages on view at UTSA Satellite Spaces's current show, Art for America.

The exhibition, curated by sculptor and "Hometown Artists' Rodeo" impresario Ken Little, features three artists, one from Austria, two from Germany. Deutschlander Hans Koch is responsible for "Shanti" and two other low-tech contraptions that are supposed to be whimsical (I think), including "Drumstick," which brings together a drum, a vibrator, and a mirror to examine the amusing narcissism of self-abuse, maybe.

In "Shanti," a small flotilla of ducks - one with a paper sail, another covered with foil, sits listlessly at the side of the pool,
while four hairdryers suspended on tripods blow hot air to a background of intermittent sailor songs (like drunken sailors, the disc sings when it feels like it, your wishes be damned). Despite the combined windforce, the sculpture is eye-of-the-storm still except one dryer, which swings as if it's an unleashed mast in a gale. Here it is, for your pleasure and puzzlement:

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But Heimo Wallner's graphic nude grotesques dominate the gallery and more than compensate for any Koch-induced bewildered disappointment. The walls are filled with Wallner's protagonist, a faux-primitive figure (think the witch doctor from Scooby-Doo, nude) who with a female counterpart distinguished only by the pertinent anatomy engages in every manner of penetration, contortion, and self-satisfaction you and a roomful of 16-year-old Catholic schoolboys can conjure. I can't decide which is my favorite: The cock and balls mounted on a plaque like a coat of arms, or a hilarious scene in which the one-eyed snake is both guitar and microphone.

But the expressionless, workmanlike manner with which these figures approach their XXX-rated gymnastics casts a dark shadow behind the surface humor: Hieronymous Bosch apes Fritz the Cat. The road to hell is paved with Boink and Bratz dolls.

Of course, I only studied it for the art. Wallner's clean, sharp graphic style will remind some viewers of the fine line between art, illustration, and design also exploited by Keith Haring (and emphasized here by two beautiful, limited-edition print books). One series of prints on handmade paper is divided into tile-like segments - but the moral tension makes it feel more like art that has been corralled into a design-friendly pattern than great design that just manages to transcend decoration.

The highlight of this sensory-overload show, though, are the two smaller rooms covered in original sharpie drawings. Seats are provided in the middle of each room so that you can contemplate the ascendance of new characters and technology. If you love it enough to live with it, small fiberboard panels, from the series Holy Cow, are available for $100 apiece. Tracing paper and pens are also provided so that you can trace your favorite wall drawing for $20-35 - a great way to get a, um, feel for the work. And that's this month's art bargain, kids.  

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