USF rocks out

MashUp is a smashing good time

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Anyone who has felt the rush of grinding a virtual axe in Guitar Hero (100 consecutive notes — you rock!) will appreciate the appeal of Pedro Reyes' "New Group Therapies." (And if you haven't availed yourself of the insanely popular video game, known for its guitar-shaped controller, you're missing out on a uniquely 21st-century form of catharsis.)

The Mexican artist's project invites participants to grasp a fiberboard cutout guitar — one of 18 varieties designed by Reyes, including versions shaped like a skull, a sitar and a double-neck — and rock out to a song of choice, selected karaoke-style. Afterward: the best part. Take that super-light faux guit-box and smash the living hell out it. Feel better? Thought so.

"New Group Therapies (Instant Rockstar)" takes center stage at an exhibit at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum called MashUp. Devoted to the intersection of fine art, music (with an emphasis on rock 'n' roll) and destruction as an aesthetic influence, MashUp provides one of the most accessible experiences of contemporary art we're likely to see this season, offering plenty of a-ha moments that you don't have to be an art fag to get. Even the most conceptual of MashUp's components — say, Czech artist Milan Knizak's "transcriptions" of his own experimental musical performances, which consist mainly of record and CD fragments adhered to hand-drawn musical staffs — are unrepentantly populist in some way.

Certainly, that spirit of art-for-the-people inspired Reyes' project, which was originally staged in a Mexico City market where punks, goths and other "rock tribes" meet each week to trade records. At the CAM, video from the original staging combines with a platform for 180 freshly commissioned guitars and, as the exhibit progresses, a pile of debris produced by visitors' cathartic smashing. (As of press time, the museum's plan for letting visitors destroy the guitars wasn't clear; one controlled smashing session was planned for Wed., Aug. 27. If additional sessions open to the public, we'll let you know on, where we'll also post photos from Wednesday's event.)

While Reyes likes to smash 'em, New York-based artist Ted Riederer prefers to re-assemble demolished instruments, particularly Epiphone Les Pauls. To that end, Riederer assembled a band a couple years ago called The Resurrectionists, whose primary function was to decimate two guitars, a bass and a drum kit on videotape. After the carnage, the artist put the instruments back together again with the care of a watchmaker and recorded the band playing a dreamy, Brian Eno-like soundtrack for the video. The whole package — image, sound and resurrected instruments — creates another cornerstone for MashUp.

Like the remnants of Riederer's faux band, a display of artifacts from The Plasmatics' decade-long existence as a (real, if inconceivably weird) punk-band-cum-performance-art-project explores the mysterious process that transforms mass-produced objects into relics via the abusive hands of rock stars. Electric guitars, brutally chainsawed in half by Plasmatics front-woman Wendy O. Williams, acquire sacredness in their demise. (And in this moment, the CAM is as closely related to the Hard Rock Café as it will ever be.)

While it's not quite readily apparent from the works on view, MashUp springs from a series of connections identified by curator Jade Dellinger between Fluxus artists of the 1960s and rock 'n' roll culture in subsequent decades. The Who's Pete Townshend, for example, once related his penchant for guitar-smashing to German artist Gustav Metzger's enthusiasm for "auto destructive art" (i.e., art that destroys itself, an idea somewhat in vogue after WWII). The most recent works in the exhibit that point directly to a Fluxus artist are a series of 1986 musical "compositions" by Houston duo the Art Guys that demonstrate the unmistakable influence of experimental composer John Cage. One piece, dubbed "Untitled #7 (Lawnmower Music)," documents the effect of, well, a lawnmower ... on sheet music.

MashUp limits itself to the inclusion of only one original Fluxus artist, the controversial Knizak, who rose from relative obscurity under Czechoslovakia's communist regime to become director general of Prague's National Gallery 10 years after the Velvet Revolution. Knizak's work shares a medium — vinyl record albums, disfigured and destroyed in various manners — with the younger American artist Christian Marclay, who is also included in the show.

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