So funny I forgot how to laugh

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Billed as a group show about comedy in art, “Ha!” at Project Room is more like “Huh.”

Several of the pieces in the show had funny bits, but overall, the show, which I took in at the opening, was paced like a night at a comedy club — you win some, you lose some. (top image is the “Ha!” menu boards announcing artists’ names and performers’ times)

Desiree Policky’s letters to corporations like Dairy Queen, IHOP and Perky-Pet Brand bird food were sassy and dumb enough to be the highlight of the show.

Even without the smarmy, corporate responses to her dumb questions, her wifty initial letters produce a laugh. For example, Policky asks DQ for tips on how she can achieve a brain freeze with their product. (DQ in its letter back, steers her to the online docs at Web MD.) (sorry I don’t have an image of the letters)

A few pieces make you smile, like Mike Okum’s “Motivational Speaker,” (image above) a video projection showing a goateed and wiggly-nosed Pinnochio intoning one-liners like “I am going to do it…I have never been more serious” on and on in a droning voice. I would have liked the piece without the words. Just staring up at that nose was funny.

The other video piece in the show, a loop of three segments by Guy Richard Smit, (left) installed on a monitor in the gallery’s entryway, was an odd warm-up act. Smit, who created an alter-ego “Jonathan Grossmalerman” (big painter man) performs stand up comedy about art wearing a suit and looking like he’s sweating linseed oil. I sampled two of the videos and found the angry, agitated patter tough sledding although I do admire the concept of standup by an embattled artist.

Patrick L. Carrico’s performance at 7:30 (image right) gets high marks for visuals and concept even though it had technical glitches and ended abruptly due to a machine malfunction. The piece seemed to be a dialog between a little laptop computer and a painter who was gamely trying to paint a picture, defend his painting and discuss Painting at the same time — and kind of failing at all three.

Olav Westphalen’s two Playboy-esque cartoons spoofing “plastic cup” art openings and the College Art Association meetings seemed a little tired what with their imagery which seemed appropriated and words which were insider-y and none too great. (sorry, no image)

Elik Smith’s collage “Everything is nothing OR laughing equals crying” (detail left) was a beauty but the comedy escaped me. Likewise, Joe Duffy’s “The Alphabet” postcards had loopy, R. Crumb-like cartoons and short missives on the back. And if there was a joke here, it was so inside the beltway I didn’t get it.

Jacqueline Sarrat’s “Suicide Drawing” (detail right) was, I suppose, darkly humorous, as was Emily Vernon’s “Self-Portrait according to Degas,” (image, below) a nice, brushy painting of Barney chewing up some ballet dancers.

Others in the show are Paul Perry, Jessica Myers, Thomas Zummer, Keith Grimon, Trevor Boyle.

Art is serious business for most artists and it’s hard to do it funny. As for poking fun at art, New Yorker cartoons seem to do it best and with some regularity. Just search for Picasso at the Cartoon Bank and see what you get.

Gallery hours by appointment. Call 215-413-3101.

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