Stepping into The Deconstructive Impulse at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, visitors are greeted with the sound of gunfire coming from Dara Birnbaum's classic 1979 video project Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.
Projected onto the gallery wall are looped film snippets of a pre-1-800-Contacts Lynda Carter (think Wonder Woman) deflecting bullets from her power bracelets amidst a rumble of explosions and the sounds of Wagner. Welcome to deconstruction.
Peaking sometime in the 1980s, deconstruction in art alters and reimagines existing forms of media to explore how messages are communicated. For example, Birnbaum's piece isn't highlighting Wonder Woman’s obvious super powers, but rather tries to use her imagery to show how mainstream media portrays its subjects.
“Not only does the show look at what the curators called a somewhat ‘lost decade’ in art history," said CAMH senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, "but it also has an interesting relation to today’s pervasive media culture.”
Co-curated by Nancy Princenthal and Helaine Posner of the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., The Deconstructive Impulse is one the first exhibitions to look at women artists as leaders in the evolution of deconstruction.
“What we realized was not only that women were at the forefront of this movement, but also that a lot of the issues they covered were motivated by feminism,” Princenthal told the New York Times at the show's debut in 2011.
Through this lens of feminism, Sherrie Levine’s replicas of famous artworks by Walker Evans and Alexander Rodchenko gain a new layer for interpretation — one that comments on the idea of originality as much as it does on the male-dominated cannon of 20th century modernism.
Susan Hiller's 1983-84 installation Belshazzar's Feast invites visitors into a cozy living room to sit and watch a video of a raging fire with soundtrack of spooky chanting, a funny juxtaposition of domestic comfort and an often unwelcomed presence of the media.
"We're always very cognizant of the types of programming and dialogues we bring to Houston," CAMH senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver told CultureMap.
“Not only does the show look at what the curators called a somewhat ‘lost decade’ in art history, but it also has an interesting relation to today’s pervasive media culture.”