Chicago

George Horner

Nancy Lurie Gallery

Manning the post of cultural imposter extraordinaire, George Horner has remained committed to Silly Putty for more than two decades. In fact, he has dedicated his life to the examination of just how far and how high the lowest common denominator can be made to go. Horner continues to deliver the art our moment so desperately “kneads.”

Horner’s amiable deflations begin with his splendid surfaces of molded Silly Putty, fragrant and pimply seas of textured pink that spark memories of youth. He deploys this substance of aimless diversion in blatant and charming excess, making the childish become childlike. This fetid skin—its shade a sickly parody of Caucasian flesh—picks up imagery, as Silly Putty is wont to, functioning as a malleable echo of the original. Horner has also adapted a wide range of Xerox processes, allowing him variety of scale and ink intensity, and he uses paint to augment selected areas for special emphasis. But technical tactics aside, nothing dilutes the omnipresent fact that this is an art that is goofy from the word go.

American Heterosexual Portrait (all works 1990) introduces the giddy visage of Horner’s latest Everyschmuck, a leering jerk of consummate vacancy. Where did he come from? In Heterolution, millions of years of human evolution are compressed into 20 square feet of Silly Putty. The work patiently chronicles this being’s rise from slimy unicellular origins, to insect, amphibian, bird, and ultimately to his present status as king of the mammals. Horner’s approach is so openhanded and void of bitterness that it seduces completely, even to the point at which one roots for this moron’s wedded bliss in Bumpy Marriage (It’s OK to Be Happy). This image, with our hero posed next to his princess bride, takes the form of a visual pun. If the picture were hung upside down, the princess’ head would read as the haggard face of an old woman. If another work, entitled Bumpy Composition, was reversed, the image of a woman powdering her chin would become a woman wiping her genitals. Horner’s delight in these rather arcane pictorial ambiguities deflates and undercuts pictures that are already helpless and entirely dependent on our good will.

Horner’s recent posters provide a strong addendum to this exhibition. They do not mimic major forms of public signage; instead they take the smallish multicolored cardboard signs usually found attached to kiosks and telephone poles as their model. Most of Horner’s signs spell out puns and tawdry aphorisms from vernacular culture—things like IF YOU SEE KAY, BE CAREFUL, and IF IRAQ ATTACKS TURKEY FROM THE REAR WILL GREECE HELP? These certainly do not constitute linguistic analyses, direct assaults on meaning, or a strategic attempt to undermine narrative discourse; instead, they signal a charmed immersion in the incredible cacophony that comprises the human comedy. Horner is far too amazed with his day to day surroundings and routine events to sustain an ironic posture. It is enough for him to expose this wonderously absurd diversity, and to lead us to the wisdom that lies just beyond embarrassment.

James Yood