Not Necessarily New

Low culture meets high concept at Plush and Purple Orchid

The two standout works in the show are studies in extremes. Allen's small video installation "I Like the Nightlife" projects an image of Caravaggio's "The Crucifixion of St. Peter" onto a row of cigarettes in a cigarette case. It's very simple, but it allows Allen to make a complex joke about stereotypical French popular culture. He combines the Old World traditions symbolized by the Baroque master's painting with the continental charms of cigarettes stylishly stashed in a cigarette case and brings them all together under a title borrowed from a disco song. It reminds you that despite France's superior attitudes, what the country chooses to embrace from American popular culture, be it dated and trite popular music or Jerry Lewis, is decidedly lowbrow.

Likewise, Stéphane Magnin's large-scale "MXY7 Suicide Rocket pour Altaïr-nécroculture-complex" is an equally clever comment on America. For this multimedia piece, entire balls of thread are pinned to the wall at specific vertices. They form a line drawing of a spaceship--a staple image of the science-fiction genre. While French author Jules Verne can be considered the father of science fiction, it was America that turned Verne's literary imaginations into the stuff of popular serials such as Flash Gordon and Star Wars. Magnin accents America's footloose, juvenile appreciation for simple entertainment with three items that lean against the wall beneath his spaceship: a toy bowling set, a Goofy beach ball and AC/DC's album For Those About to Rock, We Salute You. (The album is an exceptionally pithy French flourish: What better way to poke fun at the gauche United States than by singling out a hard-rock outfit familiar to virtually all red-blooded Americans--people whom the French stereotypically deride even more than the British. Plus, it's a group that hails from a land that was once England's prison.)

That mischievous comic sense camouflaging a lofty concept seems to be the sort of high-meets-lowbrow art that these two exhibitions want to promote, highlighting works that are both intelligent and accessible to viewers across town or the Atlantic. It's the sort of approach that artists in Los Angeles and San Francisco pioneered in the 1960s and has become the au courant flavor of Las Vegas more recently, but it's slightly tweaked by the artists here. Paris and Frenzy don't entirely succeed in breaking new ground, but it's refreshing to encounter such energy even when it's applied to an effort that falls short of such an enticing goal.

Peter picked a pack: Allen's "I Like the Nightlife" incorporates a reproduction of Caravaggio's "The Crucifixion of St. Peter."
Peter picked a pack: Allen's "I Like the Nightlife" incorporates a reproduction of Caravaggio's "The Crucifixion of St. Peter."


Paris, Texas runs through May 17 at Purple Orchid. Call (214) 826-8016.

Perpetually Abuzz in a Land of Hyped-up Frenzy runs through May 26 at Plush. Call (214) 498-5423.

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