Our world will continue to accelerate, but does that mean we have to keep up? This year's Big Show, a Houston staple since 1984, inspired over 500 artists within a 100-mile radius of Lawndale Art Center to answer that question, the underlying thread to this year's "Rate of Change" theme. While each artist and each viewer will have their own answer, the end product, curated by former Menil curator Toby Kamps, confronts us with the terrible speed of life's progression while challenging us to slow down and take stock.
The confrontation is there in prizewinner Zachary Gresham’s polaroid photographs on the second floor. The artist photographed his aura, capturing the multicolor haze of his personal atmosphere. The series of 12 clouds of oranges and yellows, joined by clouds of pinks and blues in the middle of the series, suggest constant transformation. Seeing the bursts of energy is a rejuvenating, yet alarming experience, a realization that we don’t take the time to recognize the shifting gradient of our life.
But what about in the show's other works? The same realization is there, yet hidden across the wrinkled face of an old woman in prizewinner Kathy Drago’s I am so UPSET! At first glance, the masses of warm colors fill us with excitement and energy, but a closer look a the woman’s face reveals piercing discontent. It's unusual a first impression could be so off the mark—shouldn’t we have noticed her unhappiness from the start? Then again, you have to wonder what happened—what changed—to conjure such a sour expression.
But in our fast-paced, consumer-driven world there’s little time for that kind of sensitivity. We see these personal flaws throughout the show, like humans fueled by greed in Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s parody of The Last Supper painted on a dollar bill. Children sit on the floor sweeping up fast food trash and playing with Campbell’s soup cans, while us adults stare, not at Jesus, but the pizza cutter in his hand. We also see ourselves Lillian Warren's acrylic where four people find lifeblood in tiny rectangular screens. Faces glued to the technology in our laps, A Odd Silence Shook the Room but Nobody Looked Up.
Yet the two men in Ryan Baptiste’s Grown Folks Talking seem to have it figured out. At first, their comfort brings us discomfort. Relaxing on a porch, bowl of gumbo in hand, they’ve defied our obsession with being busy and occupied. Two grown men have stopped to unwind in the middle of the day. Our fast-paced world tells us that this is wrong. But these two men, they are the ones who hold the secret to life’s success. Like many characters in the Big Show, they remind us to take a step back and enjoy life’s simple pleasures (a good bowl of gumbo), and to reflect on how everything changes, albeit at its own pace and in different directions.
The Big Show, thru Aug. 12. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858. More info at lawndaleartcenter.org.