A Gift to Be Simple

I did like the quirkier side of Lunday's vision, where she was willing to let wabi-sabi be something she herself didn't expect it to be. My favorite object in the show is a lamp pilfered from William Steen. Steen had practiced his gold leafing technique on the lamp's oversize bare bulb, leaving a kitschy mini-landscape of accidental gold hills marooned in an expanse of white glass, sort of the way the Hill Country is surrounded by flatlands. When the bulb burns out, that's it for the "piece," which Steen titled with a translated Japanese haiku. Now that's some Texas wabi-sabi.

Walking into "Night Lights," Robert Montgomery's solo show at Inman Gallery, is like walking into a stylish boutique that just received next season's shipment: Suddenly you realize that everything in your closet is the wrong color and the wrong cut. You have seen the future, and it looks not trendy, but evolved. Set into the wall of Inman's foyer are nine discs of must-have color, ranging from barely yellow to sunset red. These gentle, warm-toned beacons, lit from behind, are lined up in a horizontal row.

The plastic discs are CAPLUGS, as tiny raised letters on each one say. They all began life the same color of red, plugged in the ends of real estate information tubes in the yards of houses for sale, and were bleached for different lengths of time by the sun, thus producing the surprising variegation of hues. Like the other glowing works in "Night Lights," this installation has a distinctly uningratiating minimalist form. Montgomery's work is rife with references to the Donald Judd box and the Agnes Martin grid. Because of his use of fluorescent bulbs, Dan Flavin's light sculptures spring inevitably to mind.

But in Flavin's work, the light is the sculpture. In Montgomery's, it functions more as mood lighting. Montgomery's work is infused with an emotional tenor I'm not used to seeing in minimalist works. As if to coax the viewer to open up, his titles are often snippets of song lyrics. In don't let me fuck up will you 'cos when I need a friend it's still you, a line taken from Dinosaur Jr., two triangular light-holding tubes with narrow Plexiglas windows sit on the floor, beaming to each other silently. In how do we get far away, two "lamps" the brown of cheap hotel furniture are mounted side by side on the wall, their curved shapes coolly shrugging away from each other. Their yellow Mylar windows are on opposite sides, as if set to illuminate a bed in which one member of a couple might want to sleep while the other reads.

Like a new band covering an old song, Montgomery has different production values from his forebears. Instead of milled aluminum, enamel and steel, he uses cardboard, wood and paint. In so doing, he invokes Modernism without buying its premise of progress. Still, he pays tribute to the idea that in minimalist sculpture, art went from representation to object in itself. Montgomery, with his pieces made of glowing blue Mylanta bottles and exit signs made mournful by a cloak of cheap plastic, simply makes his objects even more everyday. Through the strength of his affection for minimalism, Montgomery manages to breathe life into its sanitary aesthetic.

A fashion analogy is not a bad one for Montgomery's work. In fashion history, styles return again and again -- though not necessarily in the same materials -- and the cultural baggage they carry is constantly refiltered. Art history pretends to be more linear: Abstract expressionism was destroyed by minimalism was destroyed by pop. The End of Art has been declared many times -- the end of fashion, never. Montgomery's work is not so much nostalgia for an earlier time as it is a decisive update. It is the minimalism of the now.

"Texas Wabi-Sabi" will be on view through March 31 at Takara Gallery, 2412 Rice Boulevard, 520-5270.

"Night Lights" will be on view through March 22 at Inman Gallery, 1114 Barkdull, 529-9676.

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