Last Night: "Who Needs Guitars Anyway?" at White Flag Projects, 9/20/08

Last Night: Who Needs Guitars Anymore? at White Flag Projects.

What You Missed: The opening of Pepe Mar’s show at one of the hipper galleries in town.

Where: White Flag Projects. 4568 Manchester Road, just east of Kingshighway.

Better Than: Trying to perfect the guitar solo on Motorhead’s "Ace of Spades" in Rock Band 2.

I get suspicious when artists try to ply me with free booze. Not the gallery, mind you; our arrangement -- free beer for showing up on opening night -- is well-established and comfortable. It's when an artist tells the gallery to put tequila shots all over the base of his sculpture and encourages visitors to "interact" with the piece that I get ready to throw my bullshit flag. So I marched on over to Pepe Mar, a young artist born in Mexico but working out of Miami, to find out if the fix was in.

Brian Stitt

Jose Cuervo around the art.
Jose Cuervo around the art.

Jose Cuervo around the art.
"This piece is called 'After Hours' and it has sort of a party feel," he points to the sculpture nearest the entrance but not the one with shots of Cuervo and a crowd.

"So I thought it would be fun to have a, sort of, after-hours club thing with empty cups strewn all over." Well the piece, entitled "Panorama," was certainly causing a stir, although I'm not sure it needed the tequila to do that.

Pepe Mar’s constructions are brimming with nervous energy and electric color; stream-of-conscious statues take the form of monstrous creatures grown from an entire cities worth of scraps.

Each collage-come-to-life seems inspired by an imagination fed on copies of Harper's Bazaar slipped inside an art history text book. The sculptures almost seem too much, each one covered in thousands of fabric strips, fluorescent colored wire, magazine clippings, guitar strings and religious images.

"It's hard for me to stop," Mar admits to me in his lilty Miami accent. "Because when I like to work on them is when they're almost done.” He's been allowed to fill out the entirety of the White Flag Projects’ space with a home to house his creations. While he says that importunity is what drew him to St. Louis, Mar’s work in the space is less impressive than the eight pieces inhabiting them.

He covered the walls with plastic netting and colored wires; he used brightly colored tape to roughly attach large sheets of metallic foil and the finishing touch was a few passes with some dy-glo green paint. It would have taken months to make a wall space that organically matched his busy, complex sculptures, but the emotional gap between art and space was either too wide or not wide enough.

The crowd was hip and mostly young, and it grew larger at the end of the night, to the point that maneuvering oneself over to the spiral staircase leading to the loft involved a series of soft taps and sideways scoots. There was a separate exhibit in the Library, White Flag Projects' upstairs hideaway filled with art books and comfortable seating.

Aaron Henderson’s Metamorphoses consisted of three widescreen panels, tilted vertically, showing video of tourists interacting with some of Madame Toussaud’s most famous wax guests. While the footage of people getting their picture taken next to wax statues of W., Britney and Oprah was strangely hypnotic the choice of subjects felt obvious. I'd rather see what kind of people wanted their picture taken with Rachel Ray or Ronald Reagan (I also just prefer names that start with R.) While the seating sure was comfortable, the drive to interact with art was too strong to keep anyone upstairs for too long.

The view from the top of the spiral staircase was interesting enough. One could spot Pepe Mar talking to guests in front of his piece "After Hours." It was still early yet, but already a hard-to-see step down had claimed one victim; a women who had taken a hard fall was swarmed by concerned interns who looked utterly stupefied as to what their course of action should be.

Maybe it was the tequila, maybe it was the attention-deficit, disorderly construction of the sculptures but something was definitely distracting people. Maybe they felt the same sense of unease with Pepe Mar's unique way of encouraging audience involvement that I did.

I never did get around to throwing that bullshit flag, the constructions were too uniformly eclectic and intentional to discard the tequila as a ploy. But as I was leaving, I noticed a small live spider crawling around on the arm of Mar’s piece entitled "Dancing on One Leg," and wondered if that was part of the art as well.

- Brian Stitt

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