April 24, 2012 - Contemporary Arts Museum Houston - It is what it is. Or is it?
April 24, 2012

It is what it is. Or is it?

Fayçal Baghriche, “Envelopments,” 2010.
Flags from 28 countries, flagpoles, and hardware.*

It is what it is. Or is it? 
12 May–29 July 2012

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX  77006
Always fresh, always free.

713 284 8250


As forms go, the readymade is a slippery one. Its originator, Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), spoke of it as “a form of denying the possibility of defining art.” Now, as the form nears its 100th anniversary—Duchamp made his Bicycle Wheel in 1913—the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presents It is what it is. Or is it?, a group exhibition that explores how the form has changed. If any one characteristic of the form is consistent, it is not only formal, but also philosophical. The readymade unites material concerns with the invisible function of thought. It avoids participating in what Duchamp called ‘retinal’ culture—the development of a solely visual and stylistic aesthetic in favor of one that unites material, physical, and formal concerns with ideas, philosophies, concepts, and feelings. Duchamp’s point, we seem to agree, was for us to get caught up in a conceptual effort to consider what we can and can’t see, and what happens when we encounter something familiar in an unexpected way. It is what it is. Or is it? is a dialogue with the readymade form, seeing it not as a collection of static objects, but as a practice of displacement that turns thought into form and as physical evidence of conceptual exercise.

It is what it is. Or is it? includes sculpture, painting, photography, video, and interactive works, including new works and commissions, by Ellen Altfest, Fayçal Baghriche, Bill Bollinger, Chto Delat?, William Cordova, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Latifa Echakhch, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Claire Fontaine, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rachel Hecker, Jamie Isenstein, Luis Jacob, Patrick Killoran, Jiri Kovanda, Klara Lidén, Catherine Murphy, and Pratchaya Phinthong. These artists’ works offer us unique opportunities to address the contemporary legacy of the readymade. Additionally, the catalogue for this exhibition, designed by Dancing Foxes Press, gathers previously published texts by Duchamp, Lucy Lippard, Joseph Kosuth, and Claire Fontaine to establish a direct relation to the process of recontextualization that the readymade engages in. Together, these artists chart our changes in perception, demonstrating that artistic practice has become notably more politicized and engaged in addressing a diversity of social, aesthetic, and temporal realities.

Against establishing cohesive thematic groupings of artworks, It is what it is. Or is it? is a speculative proposition that considers how artists are using and making readymades today and how we can learn something from them about a contemporary state of being. The readymade, and its multiple legacies, demand that we be active viewers. It is what it is. Or is it? culls together different, even unexpected, approaches to the readymade to insist upon its relevance as a method, practice, and approach for artists today. The exhibition is organized by Dean Daderko, Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Also on view at CAMH: Perspectives 178: CINEPLEX, an evolving exhibition and screening series celebrating translations and transformation of movie culture. Through July 8.

To receive an email announcing the availability of this catalogue, due out in mid-July, please click HERE.

All events are free and open to the public and take place at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Curator’s Talk
May 12, 3pm
Join CAMH Curator Dean Daderko for a conversational tour of the exhibition.

Lecture Series: One Artist, One Work
May 26, 2pm
Critic and writer Jennie King shares her paper Something Old, Something New, Something ‘Borrowed’: William Cordova’s Laberintos and the Machu Picchu Artifacts at Yale, which addresses a work included in the exhibition, Cordova’s Laberintos (pa’ octavio paz y gaspar yanga).

Artists/Scholars Talk: Lynn Herbert
June 16, 2pm
Former CAMH Senior Curator Lynn Herbert offers her views on the exhibition.

In Conversation: Rachel Hecker and Dean Daderko
July 7, 2pm
Artist Rachel Hecker, represented in the exhibition by paintings from her recent Jesus series, joins Curator Dean Daderko in a conversation about her practice, and offers audience members an opportunity to get up close and personal with her work.

*Image above:
Courtesy the artist and Nadour Collection. 
Photo: Simon Boudvin.

It is what it is. Or is it? at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
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