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Detail from Robyn O'Neil's triptych, Everything that stands will be at odds with its neighbor, and everything that falls will perish without grace, graphite and paper, 94.5 x 162.5 inches, 2003 (Seale Studios)

ArtPace residents turn sketchy ideas into fine art

Anonymous middle-aged men with potbellies, furrowed brows, and discernible personality traits muddle around Robyn O'Neil's three-part graphite-and-paper drawing, Everything that stands will be at odds with its neighbor, and everything that falls will perish without grace. Dressed in identical black sweatsuits, adrift among dark breaks of pine trees and snow banks, the men appear earnest and obtuse, unknowingly carrying the weight of their mortality with them. O'Neil, who is in her mid-20s, received a 2003 Artadia award, and Everything that stands will appear in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

O'Neil is haunted by the inevitability and unpredictability of death, a preoccupation that shines through in her large-scale drawing, which is linked structurally and narratively to Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Delights. Bosch's garden, richly portraying all sorts of gluttonous behavior, is often read as a warning that humankind is doomed to repeat the cycle of original sin. O'Neil's emotionally wintry landscape seems to say that the life of self-sacrifice, hard work, and simple enjoyments promoted by her father's generation offers no eternal reward, either. Below the dark clouds in the mountain passes, ominous planes circle, evoking the great war whose heroes remained the paradigm of manhood, even after the medals were shelved in favor of a lawnmower and barbeque grill.

Kim Jones, detail, Flatland Wars, graphite and eraser on paper and wall, dimensions vary, 2003 (Seale Studios)

O'Neil likes to set boundaries, reportedly reverting to drawing after painting because it seemed harder due to the reduced parameters. She is also said to have taken solace in her father and his peers during art school as an antidote to her hyper-eclectic fellow students. In a similar sense, her characters, many of whom have names and reappear in various works, have strictly defined lives, but in their constricted orbit, they encompass the depth of human angst over mortality and meaning.

Kim Jones' room-size colony drawing also delves into human limitations with enigmatic psychological roots. Beginning as a pencil drawing on paper and spreading onto the walls in cyclical permutations, Flatland Wars is a continuation of his series, "War Drawings," which in turn is a continuation of a game Jones has played for decades, inspired by a science fiction book published in 1884. Jones' eternally battling x and dot populations build mazes, battlements, fortresses, and war machines, spreading outward like Levittowns in the Pennsylvania sun. Among the rules that govern their single-purpose universe


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is that they are unable to see above their own barricades and walls, so presumably they have no overview or objective picture of the environment their activities have created. They also cannot see the erased past that the viewer can observe.

Jones, who is known widely for his performance work as the mute and primeval Mudman, has said he sees himself as a demi-god of this micro-world, compelling the little symbols to continue their mindless conflict; the work recalls studies of memory, patterning, and behavior. There is a pop psychology joke that the definition of crazy is repeating the same action over and over again but expecting a different result. Jones' work taps into the darker reality of this observation, mimicking the hardened patterns of subconscious thought and behavior that doom us to repeat our mistakes.

In its surprising virtuosity, O'Neil's work may shine a light on the far reaches of critiquing middle America as a creative source. Taken on its own, Jeremy Deller's contribution certainly encourages the idea that the bottom of the barrel has been scraped. The spiritual malaise of our pervasive suburbia has had to support a lot of artistic weight the past decade, and it's possible there is not a lot more to be said on the subject, even on Texas' locked-and-loaded variation, for the time being.

Jeremy Deller, Mount Carmel Spider, digital print on paper, 10.5 x 13.5 inches, 2003 (Photo by Jeremy Deller)

Deller, like several international ArtPace residents before him, turned his eye to interpreting Texas, using a combination of video, sound, photography, and objects to accomplish what he has reputedly accomplished before: provide pointed commentary on the political, social, and aesthetic soul of a place. The result here, however, is information without insight as the sketchy production takes us on superficial visits to a Branch Davidian memorial in Waco, to Bush's Western White House in Crawford, to an anti-Bush protest in San Antonio, and finally to a bat cave for the evening launch. It's possible the drollery here is too dry, or perhaps Deller's ambition is too cinematic to be captured with amateur video techniques. Unlike Willie Varela's ennervating This Burning World, which screened at ArtPace last spring, Deller's Memory Bucket leaves its loose threads where it found them.

This group of ArtPace residents was chosen by Laura Hoptman, curator of Contemporary Art at the Carnegie Museum of Art, who last year curated a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York titled "Drawing Now: Eight Propositions." Like that exhibit, these works show that a medium or discipline does not run out of possibility; the imagination does. •

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