First there was culture, then came the counter-culture and after that, for want of a better name, the counter-counter-culture arrived.
It's the latter that's on view in the exhibition Antagonism, Hacks and Hoaxes at Maryland Art Place and, true to the show's name, it's a bit infuriating.
Curated by Michael Benevento, a board member of the downtown Current Gallery, the show brings together about 20 artists and artists' collectives who together set out to mercilessly lambaste American popular culture with edgy artworks that are basically pranks, jokes or parodies.
It's to the spiritually bereft post-Sept. 11 youth what Allen Ginsberg's lyrical polemic Howl was to the Beat Generation of the 1950s. Most of the artists in Antagonism are in their 20s or 30s, and the sense of alienation that pervades the show is more than just palpable, it's a veritable miasma of seething discontent.
The installation, which Benevento designed to suggest how comfortable these artists are with the collaborative process, lets one artwork run right into the next, leaving only a few ludicrously ineffective wall labels to sort things out for the viewer.
That, and the fact that virtually all the materials in the works are so insistently post-postmodern, made walking into the gallery a little like wandering through the back of a junk-dealer's shop, with lots of not-quite-functional electronic equipment lying around, racks of cheap clothes and piles of uncategorizable stuff on the floor that look as though they're waiting to go in the Dumpster.
The most striking pieces in the exhibition undoubtedly are the video installations, whose bright, electric colors and often scrofulous subject matter spice things up by contributing a simulacrum of humor and liveliness to what might otherwise be a peculiarly dreary demonstration of post-adolescent ennui.
Jimmy Joe Roche's video projection Mixed Nuts, for example, splices together a wacky potpourri of over-the-top parodies whose subjects range from the Home Shopping Network to MTV music videos and YouTube.com clips.
In one sequence, Roche appears as a Home Shopping Network host hawking such vital domestic necessities as Japanese samurai swords and F-16 fighter jets.
The piece is obviously a poke at the 24/7 consumer culture that encourages people to satisfy their emotional needs through shopping, but it's also just real enough to make you feel bad for all those folks who buy the network's overpriced tchotchkes and still don't have a life.
Ray Roy's hilarious home video Hamster Dance made him an Internet star after the clip registered something like a million hits on YouTube. The piece shows him, uhm, hamming it up with the little critter to a rock-music beat in a sequence that's oddly mesmerizing despite its patent absurdity.
Absurd is also the word for Ed Schrader's large video projection, The Ed Schrader Show, a zany mock heroic parody of a late-night TV talk show, complete with the obligatory coffee mug and tacky guest couch.
Members of Baltimore's Wham City artist collective, including both Roche and Schrader, figure in several of these videos, an indication of the fluidity of the collaborations among this group of mostly transplanted State University of New York at Purchase art school students.
Since their arrival in Baltimore, they've been at the epicenter of an intriguing evolution in American-style Dada, and they still have lots of time to grow.
But the exhibition, which somehow never seems to transcend its own jokey sense of clutter, perfectly fits critic Arthur C. Danto's definition of an artwork as something that embodies its own meaning: It's a show about parodying pop culture that comes perilously close to ending up simply as a parody of a show.
Antagonism, Hacks and Hoaxes runs through Sept. 1 at Maryland Art Place, 8 Market Place. Call 410-962-8565 or go to mdart place.org.