Review: “Group Show” — PDNB

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[Originally published in The Dallas Morning News]

“Group Show” at PDNB is an exhibition featuring 25 artists of significant stature; in fact, many of them have been acquired by museum collections and enjoy international accolades. While the subject matter ranges from Russian landscapes to headshots of cows with brightly lit colorful backgrounds, some interesting pieces show us shared notions of Americana — at a slant.

Specifically, Bill Owens and Birney Imes give us a proverbial slice of life that is anything but ordinary. The former artist is known for his ruthlessly candid photographs of suburban life that feature everything from stuffed refrigerators to toddlers parked in front of console televisions. One fascination he explores is the once ubiquitous Tupperware party.  In fact, “I enjoy giving a tupperware party in my house” was shot in 1971 and has all the elements of a madcap romp through retro exotica. Five women peer with rapt attention at a presenter wearing go-go boots and a bouffant hairstyle. Items surrounding her include a blender — which, at the time, must have appeared futuristic — and a cookie jar in the shape of a snowman. The depiction of shag carpet, velour sofas and “swag lamps,” operate as an exercise in time travel. Also, the odd slant of the ceiling pushes the whole episode into an out-of-kilter universe that dashes any notions we might harbor of a halcyon yesteryear.

Birney Imes, meanwhile, explores the other side of things. Literally. He photographs the obverse world of suburbia by capturing images of “juke joints,” the African American version of honkey tonks. It’s a ragged, torn universe replete with pool tables, Naugahyde and cigarette butts. However, window units, bare light bulbs and posters for music performers make it seem as if life’s underbelly might be palpably more interesting than Tupperware parties. That being said, it’s wise to remember the widely heard “grass is greener” adage. It all looks as if it takes an emotional toll — and that’s precisely why it’s powerful and engaging art.

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