I am sitting in my own private atelier or studio, listening to Yo-Yo Ma's faithful and masterful performance of Bach's "Cello Suites" and flipping through a dusty copy of Art in Theory (not to mention briefly consulting Webster's Collegiate Dictionary).
I am trying to bulwark my definition of avant-garde, a testament to No. 1: how seriously I must—on at least a subconscious level, and more probably on a very conscious level—take myself and No. 2: how unsure I am as to where I ought to begin with regard to describing Auto Wolf, the latest exhibition from the animal collective Meow Wolf.
My dutiful acquiescence to a conservative and clichéd role of the artist as hermetic intellectual is thrown into sharp relief as I look back over my notes detailing the colorful and frenetic mayhem that covered all six surfaces of the exhibition space—a realization that simultaneously provokes an inward chuckle and also makes me feel very, very square.
Anyone who claims to have a clear grasp on what the artists at Meow Wolf are attempting to convey (which is in itself a presumption) is no doubt posturing, or else a close friend to the organizers and privy to the extensive backstage conversations that must take place in the time between shows. As for the rest of us who are operating as outsiders and who wander in unprepared, I can attest to a feeling of fascination with the sheer amount of things ("things" being a stand-in for "art," since not everything at Meow Wolf is so neatly quantifiable) and also, perhaps, a sense of dread that the youth movement has indeed moved away from whatever place I previously believed it to be and has taken with it all my criteria for evaluation.
The bulk of the show, as the title implies, derives from the complete disassembly of a red Volkswagen Golf (a violent dismantling involving hammers, crowbars and good old fashioned ripping, which replays at high speed on multiple monitors). The artists then combined the disassembled materials into new objects, which decorate the space almost completely. The now-empty, still-car-shaped body of the car hangs piecemeal in the center like an animal hide or shelled nut. The remainder of the show is comprised of things that, simply put, aren't made of car—such as a shredded-paper collage, a motley tepee, an eight-foot-tall Styrofoam can of spray paint. The result is a cluttered arrangement, closer to wreckage than installation. Some of the works strike me as simplistic, others as very carefully considered in material and metaphor, but any attempt to neatly dissect the show's meaning as a whole would be incomplete at best.
Poet and installation artist Vito Acconci states (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he likes to work in a group because it takes at least three people to have an idea suitable for the public. In this spirit, you will not find titles of individual works or a list of individual artists, and it is exactly this pack mentality that gives the exhibition its strength. The prize here is the energy invested and the confluence of so many minds working together to achieve a sustained pitch that is as overwrought as it is resplendent.
Just as the individuals cannot be singled out, neither can the show be adequately described. Like trying to explain a dream at once rife with significance and annoyingly incomprehensible, I can only recommend that you head south, away from the Plaza and the Railyard, away from clean walls of politely arranged and precisely framed objects, and pay these avant-guardians a visit. But be careful: You are in the woods now, and there are wolves.
Through Aug. 28
1800 Second St.