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Dumb and Dinky

New micro-galleries may go for the small and the stupid, but hey, they're still a breath of fresh air

Near DiverseWorks at Commerce Street Art Warehouse there's yet another small gallery unburdened by mundane concerns such as, say, money and regular hours. A new artist-in-residence program has helped ensure the gallery will stay in use: Two artists a year receive a free studio, in exchange for which they must team up to curate one show and mount another using their own work. "Turnstyles," currently on view, is what artists Debbie Riddle and Sondra Schwetman came up with to fulfill their first obligation. While "Turnstyles" is a mishmash of sculpture, assemblage and painting, the individual pieces are better than the usual fare seen at CSAW. Riddle says they invited artists to show work in a different medium than they usually work in, but admits that the idea didn't quite work out.

Still, had Riddle and Schwetman edited the show, an interesting sort of white trash, Home Depot aesthetic would have been discernible. The implicit passage of time in Mike Nagy's canning jar full of bullets (Anytown, USA) bears an interesting relationship to David Fulton's One Year Strata, a collection of cigarette box wrappings strung on a vertical string to look like a crystal growth, as well as to 6 Years Gone, dated paper bags full of items to be saved and stacks of newspapers, an installation by Riddle and her mother, Linda. Motion, or rather immobility, ties several pieces together: Schwetman's Bound Feet, several cast feet in one space-saving, white plastic shoe rack; Riddle's Freeway Rug, a floor rug cast in concrete; and Bill Davenport's Frank Freed-like freeway paintings, which suggest futility even as they picture the endless road. John Gaunt's giant wall diagrams showing how to insert a doorstop and a drain stopper are a match because of their mundaneness. Donna Garoh's chintzy little found object pieces -- Groom is a boy-doll in a butter dish, packed with locks of hair -- also fit well in this group. Unfortunately, the show is littered with other works -- abstract sculptures, mostly -- which, while of fine quality, simply prove that more is less.

Spaces such as the Small Projects Gallery, Subspace and CSAW aren't without lineage in Houston. Davenport says that Jeff Elrod's Art of This Century gallery, which the artist ran out of his storefront living space, was pointed to as proof that Subspace wouldn't need a big budget to have stimulating programming. In fact, DiverseWorks's original budget allocation for Subspace was $0. Since then, the organization has received a $10,000 grant from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation to fund the project for two years. Davenport says that the curators who follow him -- each of whom will have terms lasting six months -- will decide how that money is spent, whether it's on beer for openings, supplies for artists or honorariums. "We argued successfully," he says, "to have no policy at all."

Having no policy may sound irresponsible, but it's the best way -- perhaps the only way -- to ensure that these galleries are what they should be: true alternatives to lumbering nonprofit dinosaurs. Already, they're having some impact. The Shrinky Dink show will travel to Winnipeg in exchange for a show from a group of Canadian artists calling themselves the Royal Art Lodge that will be on display at the Small Projects Gallery in UH's ARA Building January 1430 (for information, call 743-2835). AAB member Missy Bosch, who will soon take over curatorial duties from Davenport, has planned a promising "no tsu oH Series" for Subspace this spring; she's also invited Niebuhr to curate a show. His exhibit, for which he will ask artists to create special works, is tastefully titled "Donuts ... Cupcakes." Houston's lucky to be at a point where we can lay claim to more than one such space, and even luckier to have people with the initiative to fill them.

"Show 'n' Tell" is on view through January 9 at DiverseWorks's Subspace, 1117 East Freeway, 223-2846.

"Turnstyles" is on view through January 5 at Commerce Street Art Warehouse, 2315 Commerce Street, 224-0872.

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