David Lukowski and Scott Penkava
Sala Diaz, San Antonio
Closed May 10, 2010
by Allison Myers
David Lukowski and Scott PenkavaWe’ve all seen them – those plastic testicles that dangle from the rear ends of F-150s across America. Thoughtfully referred to as Truck Nuts, these “vehicle ornaments” have become icons of down home virility and rural machismo. They’re also the centerpiece of Sala Diaz’s gregarious exhibition John Wayne and Paul Rubens. Guest curated by Katy Siegel, New York-based artists David Lukowski and Scott Penkava transformed the San Antonio artist-run space into a Texas-style party house, with John Wayne and Paul Rubens, aka Pee Wee Herman, as the guests of honor.
Installation view of Git a Rope
Installation view of Git a Rope
Since the gallery is itself a house on a quiet residential street, the transformation comes off especially well. The installation is a meticulously planned haphazard array that seems born out of the minds of punk rock frat boys. 70's used furniture, blow up cacti, lone star and long horns fill the house along with a spray painted green cardboard jukebox and two rocking horses (one a rhino, the other a tractor) done up tug-of-war style. The walls are painted in a Rauschenberg-esque style of messy abstraction and the space is literally covered in hand-cast Truck Nuts. Some are neon-colored, some are actually soap on a rope, while still others have the drippy appearance of melting under the Texas sun. Their number and quality are supposed to hit you in the face. The first thing you see in the yard, for instance, is a large pink pair positioned just under a rubber chicken that can only be read as (ahem) cock and balls. The soul of the installation lies in the opening night party where Lukowski and Penkava grilled sausages on home-made keg grills while dressed in Texas-themed costumes. Tug of war and cactus blowing contests were the featured events and added a healthy dose of manly competition.
The obvious schtick of the show is a packaged, cowboy-up style of Texas dudeliness. Or more accurately, the “Texas myth,” as gallery director Hills Snyder put it. This character-type is carried through by the presence of John Wayne, who appears as a wall-size photo mural in a scene from McLintock!, a comedy-western that plays off Wayne’s misogynist brand of masculinity. In the scene, The Duke, shovel in hand, spanks a scowling Maureen O’Hara over his knee in front of a laughing, jeering crowd of onlookers - a mildly disturbing scene to juxtapose against so many ball sacks.
It’s not the spanking itself that’s bothersome – that sentiment is as old as sexism itself. It’s the laughable spectacle of the scene that turns a degrading and demoralizing act into the stuff of jokes. This is exactly the kind of effect that makes me a little nervous about Lukowski and Pankova’s exhibition. At base, it’s a good-natured, fun-loving show that turns the Texas cowboy mythology into a spectacle. But that jovial self-consciousness often loses its critical edge in the aftermath, leaving the door open for a simple fond remembrance of all those crazy Truck Nuts.
The only place of mediation comes with the addition of Pee Wee Herman, an archetype of the non-masculine who affects dainty, child-like mannerisms. He is pictured wall size, dancing on a bar, in a scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (the one where he goes to the Alamo, get it?). More significantly, he also appears in doll form, smiling and spanking a Barbie doll bent over his knee. A pile of toothpicks, one of the few cowboy approved accessories, right beside him. Pee Wee’s pose, unlike the Duke’s, comes off as completely disturbed, a strange anomaly in an otherwise casually male environment. Though the show is in some ways just a fun-time, this clash between the casual mythology and the overblown spectacle makes the installation interesting.
Discussing the totemic symbolism of the phallus, or the post-feminist appropriation of blah blah, however, would miss the point. Lukowski and Penkava deal with some deep issues here. Contemporary masculinity and performing gender, to name two. But they do this in such an off-hand, in your face way that you can’t help but laughingly call them pigs. And I think that’s the point. Though I would have liked to see something more than just another riff on the Texas cowboy image, these darker undertones and complications make the installation worthwhile.
The show is over, unfortunately. But for those of you who’ve missed out, the artists set up an extensive Facebook page documenting the space, the opening, and their trip from Brooklyn to San Antonio. Check it out here.
Allison Myers is a freelance writer based in Austin. She received her M.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin.