Cowboys, Beasts, and a Leather Bit

This past spring, the artist team of John Sutton, Ben Beres, and Zac Culler was granted a two-month residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska. Known for their conceptual art, a preview of photographs from Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? at Joe Bar this month suggests they might be articulating a new kind of environmental performance art, too. While their residency and subsequent exhibition at Consolidated Works last fall riffed on the urban and suburban landscape (Convenience Booth and Trailer Park), their recent work plays off the Omaha residency's location and, in part, explores cowboy mythology.

While there, the artists adopted cowboy personas: "Kid" Culler, "Mad Dog" Beres, and "Shotgun" Sutton. Through a series of private and public performances, the team explored these and other personas and created attendant installations throughout the six-story Bemis warehouse or trotted them about town. Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? presents a fraction of documentation from these scenarios: two large-scale and 30 smaller photographs.

Culler has been studying the art of Hollywood facial prosthetics for the past two years and his technique is becoming increasingly refined, as evidenced in his handiwork for Beast of Burden. Fitted with an ox-meets-Frankenstein mask, a giant nose ring, and a leather bit, the typically unassuming Culler looks violent and just plain freaky. Lassoed by Beres and Sutton, who are perched on saddles atop poles high above Culler, Beast of Burden continues the team's ongoing investigation of labor.

"I don't think Omaha sees a lot of performance art," Culler said of one performance where Sutton donned a giant pair of fake ears that covered his eyes and rolled around downtown in a wheelchair trying to sell pencils. The police came and were concerned--first, that they were making fun of handicapped people, and second, that they were selling pencils without a street-vendor permit.

Images of the artists asleep on mattresses inside the Bemis gallery provide a preview for their exhibition slated for the Salt Lake Art Center in October 2006. The artists plan to live in the gallery for at least two months and no doubt elements particular to Utah, like Mormonism and weird drinking laws, will find their way into the show.

Opening reception is Thurs July 8 from 6 to 9 pm at Joe Bar, 810 E Roy St, 324-0407. Joe Bar owner Wylie will be serving up his outrageously tasty crepes.

kurtz@thestranger.com

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