Story Mann: Possumhead
June 30 – July 21 1979
As part of the larger exhibition, “In A Pictorial Framework,” Story Mann presented his installation Possumhead. In his piece for the New Museum, Mann divided his space into two separate arenas.
In the “inner sanctum” he recreated a barren Texas landscape — the kind of terrain found south of the Austin area where he was living. Amidst this ominous landscape the artist projected his devastating representation of a fundamental American icon: house and home. Mann filmed a burning house in the same foreboding environment that he reproduced in the Museum. There, in the great open spaces so prized in the history of this country, the artist symbolically laid waste to the image upon which traditional values were so often predicated.
The other half of the Possumhead installation related directly to the artist’s personal life and drew from autobiographical sources. Some of the photographs and assorted paraphernalia related to dogfighting, while others were records of people, places and events in the artist’s life. Still others were simply evidence of Mann’s own black humor and fascination with things which menace, threaten and intimidate: the bizarre, the mystical, the violent. A videotape featured in the installation documented a two and half hour dogfight which took place in Commanche, Oklahoma. The artist has been fascinated by this illegal sport and kept several pit bull terriers of his own, training them and entering them in matches across the country.
Story Mann twisted the knife in his liberal museum audience by confronting the viewer with a graphic depiction of a bloodbath involving man’s best friends. He transgressed the realm of acceptable source material and good taste even as they were loosely and broadly defined by many worldly adherents to the avant-garde. He presented a vivid portrait of an event that was both illegal and taboo and dared the viewer to objectify it and translate it into yet another “civilized” art world viewpoint.