Check out this article about Young Country which appeared in the Delmarva Daily Times at the end of January. Here’s an excerpt:

“Young Country” is a cutting-edge show featuring about two dozen recent works by younger American artists, primarily from rural areas of the South, Midwest and Southwest. In addition to a region, “country” also refers — in this case, ironically — to an outmoded aesthetic position, implying that such art consists of forms and ideas that are no longer current.

The show’s curator, Maiza Hixson, who is the curator of contemporary art at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington, believes that all too often, bi-coastal elites (and especially the New York art establishment) assume that artists from the “country” make “country” art; and, more often than not, dismiss such art as unoriginal and provincial, even when they haven’t seen it.

The irony, of course, is that the artists that Hixson has selected for this show are all extremely sophisticated (and some have even shown their work in New York). They’re keenly aware of what’s taking place on the national and international art scene, and use similar media — including staged photographs, video, assemblage, installation, and unconventional materials — to explore some of the same ideas and concepts as their big city peers.

Like so much of contemporary art, the art in this show is mostly “conceptual,” meaning that these artists are more interested in addressing ideas, especially about social and cultural issues, than in creating aesthetically pleasing images or finely crafted art objects (though they often do that as well).

“Young Country,” for example, asks us to examine images of the South and West as circulated in popular culture, particularly film, television and music; to consider questions of personal, regional and ethnic or racial identity; and to think about a host of other issues, including the environment, American history (especially that of the South and West), and the sometimes ambiguous relationship between words and images.

Despite these heavy topics, much of the show, which fills both the University Gallery and the Atrium Gallery, is pervaded by a spirit of humor, irony, irreverence and the absurd.

Several works address the American West of popular culture, myth and memory. Justin Colt Beckman casts himself as the lone cowboy hero of “Western Shootout,” a two-minute color video that employs all the clichés of the traditional Western. It shows Beckman on an obviously fake Western set, crouched behind a large boulder. A virtuoso gunslinger, he pops up and down, shooting at unseen foes in all directions, until finally the unthinkable happens: he holds up his hands and surrenders.

A sculptural assemblage of an abstract cowboy by C. Grant Cox, III, “Tense Negotiations,” uses both sound and motion to evoke the tense scene in many traditional Westerns when either the hero or the bad guy strides into the saloon. Assembled from wooden boards, with a large clamp-on light at the top, a film reel at the center, and metal rods inserted into cowboy boots with pizza cutters for spurs, the figure’s boots tap up and down when activated by a motion detector.

In contrast, Ann Harithas’ “Untitled” digital collage forces us to rethink our assumptions of the West. By juxtaposing two different images — a weathered Mexican and a white horse — Harithas’ challenges the WASP stereotype of the heroic cowboy as parodied by Beckman.

Other works engage stereotypes of the South, including Beckman’s video in which he casts himself as a singer and lip-syncs to country and western music in a honky-tonk; Keith Benjamin’s constructions of barns; Cynthia Norton’s installation with a moonshine still; and Brian Nicely’s installation of sawed-off log ends. Made from cardboard and balsa wood, they recall the projecting timbers of a log cabin and can be used, Nicely writes, to “enhance the historical value and add pioneer spirit to any structure.”

Especially interesting is the large scale, obviously staged color photograph, “The South, the South,” by SunTek Chung, which raises the question of how a Korean-American living in the South comes to grips with Southern history and backwoods culture. Here, the artist assumes the identity of a beer-drinking good ol’ boy seated on the porch of a rickety shack. Behind him is a Confederate flag that has been subtly altered to incorporate elements from the Klu Klux Klan symbol as well as the Korean (now South Korean) flag.

Another example of the changing South is Nicely’s wall piece, made of heavy rope, which spells out the phrase “Derrty South,” a reference to Southern hip hop music, plus any number of other associations evoked by the slang expression “dirty South.”

These are only a few examples from a challenging and thought-provoking show. For those interested in learning more, Maiza Hixson will give a lecture on the exhibition in Fulton Hall 111 on February 22 at 5 p.m., followed by a reception in the University Gallery from 6-8 p.m.

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