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A Warholian companion show by Guyton\Walker

By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2010; C10

When the Baltimore Museum of Art scheduled "Andy Warhol: The Last Decade," its curators also programmed a companion show, of sorts, that demonstrates the pop artist's overwhelming influence on the art of today. It features a one-room installation by Guyton\Walker, the name used by New Yorkers Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker. At the last Venice Biennale, they were given one of the festival's most prominent spaces and came off as some of its most promising talent.

In Baltimore, the duo have papered one corner of a gallery in a distorted checkerboard pattern, and in front of it they've set a big, spare table, laminated in brightly colored, op-arty swirls. They've completely filled the space beneath that table, and odd corners of the gallery as well, with new one-gallon paint cans, their normal labels replaced with more of the same cheery patterns, often overlayed with low-resolution scanned photos of bananas. Similar banana/design mash-ups, printed onto vinyl, cover huge canvases hung across the gallery wall; they also cover sheets of drywall stacked upright off to one side. Finally, a head-high wax slab, also checkerboarded, sits on a shipping pallet in the middle of the room, which itself sits on a banana-checkerboard canvas. Wicks set here and there into the cube allow it to work as a candle.

"Guyton\Walker has left much room for viewers to participate in the ongoing flux of making visual meaning," reads a wall text. That is the understatement of the year.

It's the flux -- a distinctly Warholian flux -- rather than any meaning you might pull from it, that is at the heart of this art. When Andy Warhol billed his artmaking self as the most crucial work of art he made, he was able to collapse distinctions between all kinds of objects and images. Silkscreens of movie stars and car crashes; bad TV shows and pee-covered canvases; pithy aphorisms and a tousled blond wig -- all were leveled to become small parts of the larger project of Warhol's life and career. It was a profoundly radical move, and as such seemed to come with existential and aesthetic implications. No matter how cheery a Warhol show may look, it always also feels important, even grim: Its mash-ups imply an unsettled world.

But now, as almost always happens in art, what was once radical and profound has settled down to seeming an aesthetic and a style, as seen in the Warholian art of Guyton\Walker and of many of their peers.

And still, those Guyton\Walker installations, in Venice or in Baltimore, feel as though they've got depths beneath their superficialities. The duo let us watch Warhol's experiment become pleasant decor -- and that's as unsettling a sight as any Warhol himself might have conjured.

Front Room: Guyton\Walker

runs through Jan. 16 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr., Baltimore. Call 443-573-1700 or visit http://www.artbma.org.

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