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Floored offers a reminder that irony isn't just about bringing the funny

Of all the nationwide changes that the terrorist attacks of September 11 have produced, perhaps none is more surprising or appropriate than the marked resurfacing of poetry in public forums. Internet memorial sites have become the anthologies for people spontaneously moved to pen elegiac remembrances for the lost and worthy praise for the heroes. W. H. Auden's "September 1, 1939" has probably been encountered via e-mail more than it's been read in colleges in the past 30 years. Others' immortal words--Whitman, Eliot--have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times. It seems that in this time of uncertainty, plain, old prose simply won't suffice. Poetry's lyrical blanket comes closest to comfort.

What's most perplexing about this poetic resurgence is the simultaneous public sounding of the death knell for irony, or at least what's called irony these days. At some point between the emergence of the modernist aesthetic and the rise of Jim Jarmusch, Jeff Koons and Dave Eggers, irony has become synonymous with sarcasm, cynicism and emotional detachment. Any mix of high and low culture is automatically labeled postmodern pastiche with all of its supposedly ironic disenfranchisement. The classically comedic and healthy skepticism that's infused in irony proper seems to have fallen with our buildings.

Sugar and spice: Halonen's "Picnic" spread alludes to a diabetic's color-coded blood-glucose chart.
Sugar and spice: Halonen's "Picnic" spread alludes to a diabetic's color-coded blood-glucose chart.

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University of Texas at Dallas, through October 26. 972-UTD-ARTS.

University of Dallas, through November 2. 972-721-5087

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Let it be known that Floored, a group exhibition on view concurrently at the galleries at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson and the University of Dallas in Irving, is in no way a response or even comment on recent events. But it does provide a serendipitous example of what irony--in its poetic, Romantic sense--can offer intellectual debate. Curated by UTD's John Pomara and UD's Christine Bisetto, Floored mixes high and low literally: Every item in the exhibitions is "installed" on the ground even as they reach for the sky aesthetically. But the works assembled here aren't strictly sculpture per se, those art objects that you'd expect to find exhibited in such a manner. The pieces by the six artists--Jon Breazeale, Jessica Halonen, Meg Langhorne, Michele Monseau, Elizabeth McGrath and Brooke Stroud--mix media as freely as they mix ideas.

Whether they be Stroud's plastic container works, which most closely recall sculpture in the catholic sense, or Breazeale's simple stacked paper, Floored offers visual proof that looks can be deceiving. Though it may appear that the only thing the works have in common is the fact that they're sitting on the ground, the thematic thread they all share is the transforming possibility of the creative endeavor.

For his works "E-K1," "Train Landscape" and "Night Light," Stroud stacks the brightly colored, plastic boxes of Playtex Chubs Baby Wipes, allowing the eye-catching packaging to function like the giant-sized Lego blocks they're designed to emulate. It makes for a wry wink at consumable goods, recycling products not into functional accoutrements but into aesthetic accents arranged as color forms. It's a feeling that may have been more powerful if the pieces were a bit more imposing--most are 2 feet high, tops--but the suggestion is there. They bring to mind the exploration-qua-exploitation of what Donald Judd called "actual space," but they don't possess the ultimate aspiration of making you feel intellectually inferior; think more of what Judd may have tried if he had a sense of humor.

The San Antonio-based Monseau gets a little more mileage out of the so-called detritus of consumer culture with her pieces. "Orange" and "Boogie"--both use hot-color-keyed fabricated fuzz to absurdly boisterous ends--radiate an ebullient floridity, especially "Boogie," which boasts the color bouquet of wildflowers lining a Texas highway.

Langhorne's two Plexiglas-based pieces recall a far more obvious natural phenomenon, but that doesn't make them less interesting. She created colored boxes of Plexiglas that are only modestly translucent. You can see through them, but enough is obscured to lend the works an artificial sense of depth, as if you're peering into a pool of water that's much, much deeper than it is broad. Heightening the liquid effect are floral soaps in "Glade" (at UD) and flower-suggestive cutouts in "Night Glade" (at UTD) that evoke a crystal-clear pond moodily illuminated at dusk. Such an organic demeanor conflicts with the hard-edged plasticity of the works.

New York-based McGrath and Dallas-based Breazeale score the most memorable works. McGrath's "Informative Niches" is a small, inverted bell curve of stacked toilet paper rolls accented with a lime-green color that feels lifted directly from a mid-'70s suburban kitchen. Yet it commands your attention despite its quirky, quotidian materials. Breazeale's stacked reams of paper, some of which are lovingly shrink-wrapped in plastic, take a minimalist, painterly approach to rectangular three dimensions. What exactly about them is so compellingly odd is difficult to pinpoint--some simply look like large Post-It pads--but you'll find yourself remembering them after you've left the galleries.

But it's Houston's Halonen who offers the most rewarding piece here. Located at UTD, the cast-sugar squares of "Picnic" form a checkerboard pattern that looks like a blanket. But when you realize that the diabetic Halonen has opted for coloring her sugar squares in hues that correspond to different blood-glucose levels, the relationship between the association of eating and the picnic activity takes on an entirely more precarious meaning.

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