Prentiss Riddle: Art

aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada

Prentiss Riddle

home art austin books
causes chuckles garden
kids language movies
music time toys travel
Search this site

Archive by date
Archive by title

Inverted Utopias and Diane Arbus in Houston

In Houston last week I caught two great shows at the MFAH, a big Diane Arbus retrospective and another on Latin American avante-garde art from 1920 through 1970.

Diane Arbus pretty much patented the concept of the beauty of ugliness in photography. She photographed sideshow freaks, nudists, and the developmentally disabled as well as more "ordinary" people who ended up looking no less freakish. I've seen a lot of her work over the years but never so much of it in one place. I knew she was popular and influential but I didn't realize how many of her images had become iconic -- what album cover ripped off her child with toy hand grenade? The show includes letters, notebooks and artifacts, too, which reveal her to have been a Kerouac-like correspondent, obsessive note-taker and sometime mail artist on the side. There's a ton to pore over here. (If you can't make it to the show, see Diane Arbus at Masters of Photography.)

Diane Arbus: Child with hand grenade La civilización occidental y cristiana
Inverted Utopias: Berni

The Inverted Utopias Latin American show was also huge. Its opening space entitled "Play and Grief" was immediately up my alley -- darkly humorous, heavy on the irony and the politics, with an emphasis on collage and the figurative. The giant lizard made of trash looked like a cousin to the water buffalo car I'd seen at the Art Car Museum just weeks bafore. Some of it seemed too obvious until I realized its age: León Ferrari's santo of Christ on a USAF fighter is from 1965, when such juxtapositions weren't obvious at all. But the parts of the show I connected to less immediately were also rewarding, the cubist and constructivist section in particular and even the documentation of late-60's "happenings" which confronted the Argentinean dictatorship. Exploring the online galleries at MFAH and the Houston Chronicle I see that I must have overlooked some rooms. Maybe I'll get another look before it closes in September.

Finally, the intersection of the two: looking at all the Argentinean and Uruguayan modernists and their 60's revolutionary successors I had been wondering about their relationship with Jorge Luis Borges, who at once was so modern and so conservative. And there he was in Arbus's show, photographed in Central Park in 1969, dapper and blind and immune to shifts in the stylistic winds, for which he would have found ancient and medieval antecedents anyway.

art 2004.08.15 link