Contemporary Arts Museum Houston announces It is what it is. Or is it? exhibition

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presents It is what it is. Or is it? a group exhibition on view 12 May–29 July 2012.

Faycal Baghriche, “Envelopments,” 2010. Flags from 28 countries, flagpoles, and hardware Courtesy the artist and Nadour Collection. Photo: Simon Boudvin.

s forms go, the readymade is a slippery one. Its originator, Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), spoke of it as “a form of denying the possibility of defining art.” Now, as the form nears its 100th anniversary—Duchamp made his Bicycle Wheel in 1913—the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presents It is what it is. Or is it?, a group exhibition that explores how the form has changed. If any one characteristic of the form is consistent, it is not only formal, but also philosophical. The readymade unites material concerns with the invisible function of thought. It avoids participating in what Duchamp called ‘retinal’ culture—the development of a solely visual and stylistic aesthetic in favor of one that unites material, physical, and formal concerns with ideas, philosophies, concepts, and feelings. Duchamp’s point, we seem to agree, was for us to get caught up in a conceptual effort to consider what we can and can’t see, and what happens when we encounter something familiar in an unexpected way. It is what it is. Or is it? is a dialogue with the readymade form, seeing it not as a collection of static objects, but as a practice of displacement that turns thought into form and as physical evidence of conceptual exercise.

It is what it is. Or is it? includes sculpture, painting, photography, video, and interactive works, including new works and commissions, by Ellen Altfest, Fayçal Baghriche, Bill Bollinger, Chto Delat?, William Cordova, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Latifa Echakhch, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Claire Fontaine, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rachel Hecker, Jamie Isenstein, Luis Jacob, Patrick Killoran, Jiri Kovanda, Klara Lidén, Catherine Murphy, and Pratchaya Phinthong. These artists’ works offer us unique opportunities to address the contemporary legacy of the readymade. Additionally, the catalogue for this exhibition, designed by Dancing Foxes Press, gathers previously published texts by Duchamp, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, and Claire Fontaine to establish a direct relation to the process of recontextualization that the readymade engages in. Together, these artists chart our changes in perception, demonstrating that artistic practice has become notably more politicized and engaged in addressing a diversity of social, aesthetic, and temporal realities.

Against establishing cohesive thematic groupings of artworks, It is what it is. Or is it? is a speculative proposition that considers how artists are using and making readymades today and how we can learn something from them about a contemporary state of being. The readymade, and its multiple legacies, demand that we be active viewers. It is what it is. Or is it? culls together different, even unexpected, approaches to the readymade to insist upon its relevance as a method, practice, and approach for artists today. The exhibition is organized by Dean Daderko, Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006
713 284 8250

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