The Arthropologist

Art is funny: The Houston works that provoke giggle fits

Art is funny: The Houston works that provoke giggle fits

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Exhibition shot from Wendy Wagner's show, "Lookie," at Basque Art Gallery Photo by Wendy Wagner
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Miro Švolík, "Big Woman Little Man," 2010, FotoFest Courtesy of the artist
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Colin Blakely, "The Insignificance of Someone Else’s Death," 2005, FotoFest Courtesy of the artist
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Gilbert Garcin, "The Flight of Icarus" (after Leonardo da Vinci), 2005, FotoFest Courtesy of the artist
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Blue Man Group on a national tour Photo by Paul Kolnik
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Artistic director Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance Company Photo by Simon Gentry
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From the Houston Grand Opera's Studio Showcase 2009, "Cosi fan tutti" Photo by Chris Novosad
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Jessica Janes and Drake Simpson in the Catastrophic Theatre production of Richard Foreman's "Paradise Hotel" Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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Patricia Hernandez, "Fountain of Relief," 2010 Courtesy of the artist
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Dominic Walsh in Mat Ek's "Pas de Dans" Courtesy of Gabriella Nissen Photography
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Once, when I was chatting with comedian Swami Beyondananda about what actually happens in the brain to make something funny to us, I glanced over at my watch and realized I was late. I got up, tripped on the sidewalk and went flying across the pavement in full view of a swarm of people.

"Isn't that our dance teacher?" whispered the crowd.

If I wasn't bleeding, it would have been hilarious. No one expects the movement guru to trip, which was exactly what Swami was trying to tell me about what makes stuff funny. It's about a thunderbolt to the gray matter, where something unexpected, unplanned and unanticipated happens. 

Art is mostly serious biz, except when it isn't. 

Jane Weiner's pratfall in Deux Tango gets me every time. Weiner also nails deadpan in her rant/dance, Salt. She's like a moving version of a David Foster Wallace novel, interrupting herself all the time to tell us some silly tidbit.

The dance may be a goofy as all get out. However, it's point that art is as necessary as salt to sustain our souls is not.

But here's the catch: she softens us up with her antics before whacking us over the head with her true purpose. Weiner uses droll humor to get much of her Hope Stone message out. She's a sly one.

Every time I see Patricia Hernandez, the mastermind behind Parody of Light at DiverseWorks, I wish I were donning a clown suit. I'd like to follow her around wearing it. The mop-headed, red striped pajama wearing clown performs all manner of mischief on her magnificently improved Thomas Kinkade canvases. The clown tubing behind a ship in a sappy ocean scene is my personal favorite, but it's a tough choice.

Hernandez's clowns also meet several states of death, from floating head down in a serene stream to being road kill. Maybe even Kinkade would find it kinky. Maybe not.

I've been to the show several times, whenever I need a little pick me up of the bizarre variety. Plus, I am saving up for the Kinkade toilet paper at the Going Out of Business sale on Feb. 26, benefiting Studio One Archive Resource, Hernandez's nonprofit that helps local artists and organizations preserve their work and history. 

Just next store at FotoFest I found a different flavor of funny in A Matter of Wit. I was so taken by the works of Miro Svolik, Colin Blakely and Gilbert Garcin, I skipped the MMM... Cupcakes at the Culturemap pop-up party. Art has to be damn good to get in the way of me and a cupcake.

Here, we find the "Say What?" variety of chuckles. Garcin creates impossible situations by inserting a mini-cut out version of himself into his photographs of mythic scenarios. If you are an art historian, you can amuse yourself with his inside jokes. But you don't need to be to have fun looking at these photos.

Svolik hits my dance funny bone with her fantastical reconfigurations of the human body. Blakely's titles are a hoot. Leave a good half hour to see this clever show, which runs through Feb. 25. Take a cupcake for added frivolity. 

Nobody does whimsy like Wendy Wagner, whose show Lookie is gracing the Bosgue Art Gallery at Lone Star College from Tuesday through March 10. Wagner's surreal creatures are refugees from our craziest dreams. Her swift craftsmanship makes them all the more delicious. I want to take a vacation in a Wagner painting. She won the Hunting Art Prize in 2008, nothing funny about that.

Then there's a gentle form of humor that speaks more to smiling than gagging. Mats Ek's Pas de Dans, recently performed with wit and grace by Dominic Walsh Dance Theater (DWDT), makes a  perfect example. Rachel Meyer enters and immediately plops into a split. It's kinetic deadpan.

Walsh's dancing is equal parts cheeky and charming. Ek is Swedish, which should explain a lot. Choreographic subtexts swirl about; it's virtuoso snickering, almost Mozartian. But you don't have to wait until DWDT does the Ek again to get to Mozart.

The wondrous Houston Grand Opera Studio Artists perform Mozart's frothy Cosi Fan Tutti on March 11-13, at Becker Theater at Emery-Weiner School, followed by The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart's adorable comedy of manners, presented by HGO on April 15-30 at the Wortham. Mozart's comic operas go down like champagne.

If you prefer your champagne crashed into your skull, can I suggest The Catastrophic Theatre's production of Richard Foreman's Paradise Hotel, now wreaking havoc at DiverseWorks through Feb. 26. Picture slapstick on steroids. This anti-sexual vaudevillian romp about sex sets a new standard for over the top.

Think Marx Brothers do experimental theater. It's chuck full of gongs, whistles, and bleeps, suicides that don't quite take, and outrageously embodied characters, performed with massive doses of hysteria by Drake Simpson, Matt Carter, Jessica Janes, George Parker, Kyle Sturdivant, Aaron Asher and K. Brown. Watching Simpson dance as Drake Van Dyke is reason to go. Let's just say hilarity ensues and then some. 

Blue is not a particularly funny color, unless your face happens to be covered in it. For epic silliness there's nothing quite like Blue Man Group, commandeering the Society for Performing Arts stage from March 9-13. Blue Man gets me right back where I started with old Swami, but add in some snazzy  technology, insanely nutty instruments and a crew of blue-faced non-smiling performers.

And that's grease paint kids, giving them a wet gooey look. Face it, not making sense while painted blue is a riot.

Houston, get your giggles on. I hope to crack up in a theater seat next to you soon.

Blue Man Group's Weirdo Wit

 

Get Beamed Up with Wendy Wagner