OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma — Curious what the Flaming Lips, the psychedelic rock band, would do with their own gallery? Then get to Oklahoma City, but be sure to catch an opening, because otherwise their Womb gallery is available for viewing by appointment. Over my holiday weekend visit to my (and the Flaming Lips’) home-state, I tried to see the Womb and a couple other downtown Oklahoma City art spaces, including [Artspace] at Untitled and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
The Womb (25 NW 9th Street) was started by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne with friends Rick Sinnett and Justin Harms, who serve as the co-directors. It had its official opening this August with an exhibit by the San Francisco-based Bigfoot, who has made his reputation on paintings of sasquatches. Currently exhibiting is Dalek, another street artist, who had some pixelated pink work in the windows (it and the gallery itself are not too subtle with the “womb” imagery and colors). Inside there is also the Womb Sensory Bombardment installation, designed to induce natural hallucinations. Music with Coyne’s distinctive, off-key voice and Flaming Lips fuzziness was droning out of a speaker on the corner of the building.
Although I was out of luck trying to get into the gallery, that didn’t stop me from seeing some trippy art. It’s all over the Womb. The color assault started with Brooklyn-based Maya Hayuk, who painted a rainbow of eyes and mouths in a mural that wraps around the gallery. It makes it impossible to miss in Oklahoma City’s industrial-toned brick and concrete downtown.
Artists are continuing to be invited to contribute to the mural, and it’s a rare place for vibrant street art in Oklahoma City. My favorite section was by R. Nicholas Kuszyk, whose work is probably familiar if you have ever walked down Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg and seen his robots on the side of the Bagel Store (soon to be Starbucks) on N. 3rd Street, or the newer mural on a new condo building on Metropolitan Avenue between Roebling and Havemeyer.
The robots on the Womb have a sort of whimsical melancholy, with two in a stalemate battle and one seeming to burst apart on the garage door. The Flaming Lips’ best music has relied on this sort of earnest happiness in the face of death or destruction or, even, evil-natured robots.
Down the street at 1 NE 3rd Street, I stopped by [Artspace] at Untitled, where I worked from 2007 to 2008. The nonprofit arts center is housed in a huge warehouse, right by the rumbling train tracks.
The current exhibit, In Design: The Art of John-Paul Philippé, is showing through January 12 and has paintings, drawings and sculptures by the artist best known for his interiors in Barney’s stores around the world. John-Paul Philippé is from Oklahoma and studied at the University of Oklahoma, but this is his first solo show in the state.
[Artspace] at Untitled is a beautiful space and features a huge central gallery area and industrial touches like the concrete floors, wood pillars and segments of tin ceiling. It has a surprisingly prolific exhibit history for a gallery in downtown Oklahoma City, having featured the work of Ed Ruscha, Petah Coyne, David Salle, Robert Rauschenberg and Kahn/Selesnick.
The west gallery of [Artspace] at Untitled is showing a series of photography exhibits, with the current being Decade by Decade: The 1930′s (From the PSA Collection). The Decade by Decade exhibits, curated from the collection of the Photographic Society of America held at [Artspace] at Untitled’s photography archives, are aimed at examining the history of the development of photography.
[Artspace] at Untitled is currently under the direction of Jon Burris, who has worked extensively with photography both in the state of Oklahoma and internationally as a curator, and that practiced eye definitely shows through these rotating photography exhibits, where each piece has a harmonious strength.
I also visited the more institutional Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which was founded in 1945 and has diverse collections focusing on American art from the colonial era to 1960, European art from the Baroque period to the early 1900s, post-war and contemporary art, 20th century American photography and Dale Chihuly glasswork. The biggest one of those Chihuly pieces is used as an architectural statement, climbing all the way up the building’s interior façade.
While I’ve seen some wonderful art at the OKCMOA, I found the two current temporary exhibitions to be strange choices. On the first floor was Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman. While Eastman’s photographs of old world Cuba do have a lovely faded elegance, I didn’t find these photographs exhibited large-scale to be any more engaging than if they had been in a coffee table book. The other exhibit was Poodles & Pastries (and Other Important Matters): New Paintings by Franco Mondini-Ruiz, which seemed to be an attempt to comment on the cheapness and disposability of art, an odd message to be in a museum.
The exhibit of Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s work is the first instance I’ve seen of art being on sale in a museum, although I’m sure it’s not the first ever. Maybe there is a market for ceramics of dogs with cigarettes glued to their mouths and collectors who would be really into this. It wasn’t the OKCMOA’s strongest showing, but the permanent galleries with their careful lighting and walls rich with paintings by influential American artists like Hans Hoffman and Charles Willson Peale, and artists influential in Oklahoma like Doel Reed and Nan Sheets, are always worth a look. Just like all the strange corners of Oklahoma City’s art world.
There’s more information about The Womb (25 NW 9th Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) on their website.
In Design: The Art of John-Paul Philippé continues until January 7, 2012 at [Artspace] at Untitled (1 NE 3rd Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma).
Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman and Poodles & Pastries (and Other Important Matters): New Paintings by Franco Mondini-Ruiz both continue at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (415 Couch Drive, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) until December 31.
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