Jinkies, it's art!

It's probably happened to everyone. I've watched something so hilarious, so brilliant, so truly a piece of comic genius that I have to share it with someone...well, everyone. So I relay the story, laughing loudly at each joke, while my friend stands with furrowed brow, eventually muttering "Hmmmm, yeah, sounds great" or something equally indifferent and unimpressed. I know I'm not funny, but this time the failure isn't my fault. Humor dies in the translation. So Richard Scheiss once said, and so say the notes on Hi-Jinx, an exhibit of tricks and gags at the Arlington Museum of Art.

So if just retelling the joke kills it, how can I write about Hi-Jinx and do the works justice? I can't. Explaining the humor in Justin Kidd's plastic bag full of crocheted yarn titled Paper or Plastic? or Susan Laswell's terra-cotta flip-flops topped with miniature chimenea stoves would ruin what made them funny in the first place. It would be like dissecting Charlie Chaplin's dinner roll and fork dance in The Gold Rush, or a dissertation on the Black Knight's relentless and eventually limbless fight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The joke is dead. Long live the joke.

The exhibit booklet also explains that the pieces in Hi-Jinx aren't fine art. Some of the contributors don't want their works to be called art. Others work in styles such as comics that the art world has ignored or written off as lowbrow, or as outlets for those who dabble in art without coming near enough to deserve credit as a real artist. If fine art hangs in galleries, must be taken seriously, and is only accessible to those with enough cash in hand, then this isn't fine art. For one thing, there's too much yarn. The pieces are also accessible, almost touchable, and funny.

The joke begins outside where a large portable sign points at the window, advertising "free ATM inside." Another sign inside reflects the message. There's not a cash machine in sight. Instead, ATM means "artistic tactical maneuvers." In the museum's main gallery downstairs, a massive first-place trophy bends and curves along the ceiling just to fit inside, pants stand mid-step without their humans, and personal ads are placed randomly throughout the gallery. Benito Huerto updates Picasso's Cubist masterpiece "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" by giving the nude women tattoos and piercings. A struggling actor's life is whittled down to a messy apartment in miniature, sitting atop a bookcase.

Upstairs there's a wall dotted with "trophies" of smiling stuffed animal heads such as Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo, and various bears, hippos, and kittens. The artist even bagged the elusive Teddy Ruxpin and the endangered Big Bird. In "King Lear," a mouse reads a book on one side of a door. On the other side, a mouse trap waits, baited with another book. The adult content section features an installation of drawings and paper works by John Freeman, the lead singer of Denton's Dooms UK, and two comics by Todd Ramsell, plus his painting of a naked gnome gesturing the viewer to join him in the bushes.

That's the beauty of art. Viewers get to decide if the pointy-hatted gnome is making a proposition, and whether it's really funny or just disgusting. I think it's a sidesplitter. I'd explain why, but that would ruin it.

Shannon Sutlief

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Shannon Sutlief