Manly men

The gender thing again? C'mon.
Less than a year ago, the usually adventurous Arlington Museum of Art ran an exhibit titled Women's Work, showcasing the female-tinged artwork of a dozen or so emerging women artists. Back then, I was both bemused and irritated with the gender angle; the individual works were strong enough, but in the context of an all-woman show, they came off as precious or whiny or bitter. The art world no longer requires such crutches for its talented women; Elizabeth McGrath's and Andrea Grover's work can be displayed next to any man's and still make its point--about being a woman, or an artist, or just another person in this world. Keeping it in an all-chick show didn't do the artists any favors--it just put a safety net between them and the real world.

Now the AMA has the counterpoint exhibit to Women's Work, called Boys Toys. It's art about--you guessed it--the male experience, by emerging male artists. Sure, some of the individual works are compelling, but the gender distinction seems pointless.

As with Women's Work, Boys Toys spotlights a few standout artists; AMA director-curator Joan Davidow always has an eye on what's new and interesting, and she nobly provides these works a forum. J Hill's "Lick-a-fix," 36 real syringes attached to the wall, each encased and engorged with bright, melted hard candy, is an up-to-the-minute punch about dope addiction, though I didn't realize an affinity for horse was manly. I'd ask Billie Holiday about that, only she's dead. (This piece wouldn't fly in New York or Los Angeles, where artistic statements about Plano's greatest scourge are on the out.) Next to this piece is Hill's more subtle and clever "Pride," this time a bevy of tiny, cast-bronze lions making their way across the whitewashed wall. These little guys are entirely non-threatening, which is the point, and oddly sad in their hieroglyphic stasis and meek silence.

Steven Watson's "Conundrum," a standard red metal toolbox ominously plugged into a wall outlet, is locked tight with a heavy padlock; look inside the box's added peephole to see the key that might pop the lock. It's a circular problem that would keep a dull-witted weekend handyman diverted for hours. Kenneth King's "First Draft," a flock of cast-bronze "paper" airplanes (they look like oxidized, folded pages from a book) are suspended above the head by clear thread, as if in joyous flight, and evoke Chris Burden's fleet of submarines that once filled a room at the Dallas Museum of Art. Another homage--or should we call it a rip-off?--is Patrick Phillip's giant photos of Lego toy battles. Swarms of little soft-focus, plastic-smile pirates and soldiers gallivant about on their colorful, blocky constructed backgrounds, filling the frame in a parody of real bloodshed. Anyone recall David Levinthal's GI Joe and toy cowboy dioramas--the ones he's been photographing for years now?

Randall Garrett's "Accident," the laugh-provoking aftermath of an apparent collision between a shiny red wagon and a tricycle, grows scary on careful inspection. The upended pieces strewn about the floor can't be mentally reconstructed, and you begin to wonder just what kind of vehicle this speedy toy really was, and what happened to the kid who was riding it.

Ironically, some of the best pieces in the show are by the lone woman, Kate Budd. She's constructed a series of disturbing, sci-fi scenarios starring organic, sharp-toothed little creatures trapped in cages and glass-top boxes, apparently enduring some bizarre and possibly cruel experiments. Rubber hoses, electrical transformers, and light bulbs are attached to the mute animals, which stand, I assume, as metaphor for that part of the female anatomy.

Vagina Dentata invades Man Land and gets burned. Where's that safety net now?

--Christina Rees


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