You see them everywhere if you look hard enough, but they are especially prevalent along stretches of older highways in the rural South and West: Places where boom years came and went and where the buildings and signs of earlier times have been adapted to appeal to the trends of the present, sometimes in vain. Abandoned signs with words mangled by wind or vandalism litter the landscape, broadcasting jabberwocky messages to uncomprehending drivers, and even those buildings that have found a second life can look lost in their new roles, surreal artifacts at the intersection of aspiration and desperation. A passing motorist may blink and wonder if an antihistamine is causing hallucinations, but no, this lost America of detoured dreams is real. Trey Burns and Alli Miller have photographed these places and arranged them like collections of strange butterflies at the May Gallery.
Some are displayed in architectonic grid structures like stacked storage crates, while the ones on the walls appear in frames like the kind sold in discount stores, but they are really all handcrafted to look manufactured. This may be taking matters too far, but the photographs are intriguing. One romantic example features a dusky swimming pool reflecting the familiar yellow squares of a Waffle House sign that was reworked to read, "We Buy Gold." In another, a concrete tepee that may have once housed a souvenir shop now sports a distinctly non-Native American sign: "Espresso." Nearby, a weathered sign in an empty wasteland reads: "Museum Ahead," even as a desert scene painted on the side of a derelict shipping container (detail pictured) mimics the desert that surrounds it like something a latter day Magritte-of-the-badlands might have concocted after a peyote cocktail. The faux-Walmart frames and crate sculptures make this fall under the heading of conceptual art but it all works eloquently as an installation, a tribute to the unintentional ad hoc surrealism of the American road. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT