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Visual Arts

Rodeo clown

Known for his design work on ‘Pee-wee's Playhouse,’ artist Wayne White runs ‘Amok’ with a large-scale, interactive exhibition of cowboys and horses.

Rod Lott June 18th, 2013

Halo Amok
through Sept. 1
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch

Unlike the other exhibitions currently housed at Oklahoma City Museum of Art — the Chihuly glass, the Herb Ritts photos — one can touch the works of Halo Amok without fear of being thrown out. That’s what they’re for, according to their creator.

“This is art you can literally walk into,” said nationally renowned artist Wayne White. “The intent is to make the experience of art direct and visceral. Hopefully it will open young minds to the sheer joy of art: It’s there for you.”

With deliberate all-ages appeal, Halo Amok contains four floor-to-ceiling puppets depicting a “cubist cowboy rodeo.” Horses and their riders have been constructed primarily with wood and cardboard, with a bit of Styrofoam and other materials for good measure.

“Part of my message is that you can make anything out of humble materials,” White said. “You don’t have to get all ‘fancy.’” In fact, he’d much rather you not. Visitors are not just allowed, but encouraged to pull the ropes and turn the cranks that make these ragtag sculptures gallop and galavant — all as part of an interactive lesson on the cubist movement.

“Cubism is a way of scrambled reality,” White said. “Yes, there are thousands of books you could read about it; you could do a very scholarly take on it. But I like to have both levels open. What’s art? Who cares? This is fun.”

Wayne White
Cowboy culture
Indeed. If the pieces immediately to bring to mind White’s similarly skewed, Emmy-winning design work on the late-’80s groundbreaking TV series Pee-wee’s Playhouse, it should.

“This is very much like my set-building days. It’s related to my puppeteering days, too. Actually, everything I’ve done is in here,” he said, citing forays past and present into comics, painting and storytelling. “It never leaves you. It’s all here, and I love putting it together [in large scale]. I’m always thinking of pitching as big a tent as possible. I want to be the circus that comes to town.”

Doing so was a month-and-a-half process, he said, with a full-time crew of “eight-ish” bringing his sketches to life. The project was birthed at last summer’s deadCENTER Film Festival, where the documentary about White and his art, Beauty Is Embarrassing, won Best Documentary Feature. Offered the opportunity under the museum’s New Frontiers Series for Contemporary Art, he jumped at the chance.

“It gave me permission to indulge my love of history. I’ve drawn cowboys all my life,” he said, recalling his childhood days spent with “standard-issue” cap guns strapped around his waist. “Cowboy culture is huge for my generation. It’s a lifelong motif for me.”

Thus, a Western theme was inevitable, and the title of Halo Amok — an anagram of “Oklahoma” — conveys an appropriate vigor, for “What is a rodeo but energy run amok?” he said.

But every burst of energy comes with a crash, and come Sept. 1, the hefty horses of Halo Amok will be standing on their last legs. After that, the work comes down ... and likely into a rather large recycling bin.

“I’m not sad [about its temporary nature], because all the work will be experienced by thousands of people,” White said. “It’s about the experience, not the object. Art is not about that at all.” —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
Beauty Is Embarrassing film review    
Dale Chihuly feature    
Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity feature   

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