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Young at Art

Glassell School's Core show reveals the heart, soul and blood-sugar levels of its visiting artists

With art derived from crocheted afghans, skateboards and glucose levels, the "2000 Annual Core Exhibition" gives the city of Houston a look at what all those out-of-towners have been generating in their glass-block studios at the Glassell School of Art during the past year. The event is the local fine arts equivalent of spring training: The Glassell gets to show off its latest prospects, and the community gets to debate their potential -- or lack thereof.

The potential, of course, is always there: The Core Residency Program attracts young national and international artists and provides selected applicants with studios, a stipend and feedback about their work from a series of visiting artists and critics. The intent is to facilitate the developmental transition from art school to working professional artist.

The work of seven Core fellows is on view, accompanied by a catalog with essays by Susie Kalil and Keith Marshall, the program's critical studies residents. There is an interesting symbiosis between the critical studies residents and the artists. In addition to writing about their works, Kalil has interviewed the artists and edited their comments into individual statements. The essays explore how the work functions, and the interviews reveal the artists' own thoughts and motivations, exposing influences that may or may not register on the viewer's radar.

Cornucopia in repose: Todd Hebert subverts the "wholesome Americana" of the holidays.
Glassell School of Art
Cornucopia in repose: Todd Hebert subverts the "wholesome Americana" of the holidays.
is on view through April 23 at the Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Boulevard.

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Much of the work in the exhibition is informed by personal experience -- regional, biological or vocational. Todd Hebert, for instance, grew up in North Dakota, a declining farm state with a Midwestern predilection for mayonnaise-based salads and holiday Jell-O molds. Subverting the "wholesome Americana" version of holidays, Hebert presents a big flaccid cornucopia obsessively woven from foam rods. Collapsed, ashen and empty, it looks like something made by a disillusioned and cynical Claes Oldenburg, and it pushes the absurdity of holiday symbolism. His Halloweenish drawings, little black silhouettes of wheat, picket fences, TV antennas and backyard grill racks, are strangely appealing.

Jessica Halonen creates sculptures, installations and drawings from personal physiology. A diabetic, she has designed a system of colors that directly corresponds to blood-sugar levels. Black, well, that's very bad; brown is a little better; blue means okay; yellow indicates caution; and pink signals danger. Confectionery Chart: February 26-March 1 (2000) is a wall piece that charts her glucose levels for the dates indicated. Combining sugar and acrylic paint she casts oversize sugar cubes in the colors of her system. Placed on small shelves above, below or on a horizontal blue line painted across the bottom part of a wall, the cubes indicate her levels on a particular day. For Confectionery Units (2000), various sizes of cubes are placed on the floor in haphazard stacks, grouped by colors.

Conceptually, it's interesting to make objects that are abstractions of the artist's physiological state, especially when they're created from the very substance that causes so much concern. The casting and stacking seem to have a lot of potential, but her glossy painted wooden columns, pictured in the catalog but not on view at the show, feel much more resolved. The ten columns of varying heights are painted with bands of color to represent blood-sugar levels over a two-day period. The bottoms are sliced at angles, and they tilt unsettlingly, their surfaces thick and hard-candy shiny.

Bradley Tucker's stint as a sign fabricator has obviously affected his work, as he makes, well, signs. With a child-of-the-'70s color scheme, he creates oddball constructions and paintings of words that conjure up myriad associations. Sandwich(2000) has the word "FINE" in block letters carved out of upholstery foam. The letters are squashed between two skateboards cast in Hydrocal. For Tucker, skateboards are emblematic of his California childhood, and they look like plaster casts made from a valuable archeological artifact. The "FINE" reminds me of '70s T-shirts of the "Foxy Lady" genre. Other letters and shapes are cut from wood and covered with stretchy fabric in shades of avocado-green, tan and chocolate-brown polyester. They look like mutant refugees from department store window displays. But instead of the phrase "New Spring Fashions '74," you have the word "CON" or a goofy stylized cloud.

Having spent an inordinate amount of time working in a movie theater, Duncan Ganley creates images heavy with cinematographic residue. Ganley presents his digital photos as possible stills from The Lost, a great unfinished film by fictional director Martin MacAnally, or as shots from the interior of the reclusive director's home. Magnum Opus (Duncan Ganley - Katy Freeway - A Martin MacAnally Picture - THE LOST - Rated R - Friday) is an 11-foot by 20-foot vinyl banner that functions as a slickly incomplete promotional poster for the "film," but the stills are more compelling.

Digitally constructed from photos taken in the Warwick Hotel and the Museum of Fine Arts archives, the images are eerie and otherworldly. In Millennium Party Scene (Uncast) (2000), the red and blue cheesy opulence of a Warwick Hotel ballroom invites the viewer to manufacture all sorts of narratives. A glowing chandelier hovers in the center of the room, and Christmas ornaments, sans tree, float in the corner. A grid of white crosses is placed on the surface of the image, similar to markings used by NASA in mapping photography. It's a great formal device; it places a barrier between the image and viewer and reinforces the subtle strangeness of the images as you peer through the marks.

Emily Joyce's abstract vinyl collages look like she ripped a painting from its canvas and splatted it onto the wall. Made from the adhesive vinyl used for signage, Joyce's constructions are cut from stencils the artist has made or purchased. The geometric and goofy organic shapes are built upon each other in brilliantly colored free-form masses adhered directly to the wall surface. They work well released from the circumscribed space of a rectilinear picture plane, sort of like "Peel-n-Stick" paintings. Think of the surfaces you could adhere them to -- car hoods, refrigerator doors, ceilings, television screens, the bathroom mirror. Very cool.

Melissa Thorne's abstraction is influenced by the domestic geometry of crocheted afghans as well as the utopian geometry of the Bauhaus. The wall-size Masterplan(2000) is painted in ink on vellum forming multicolored, concentric rectangles. The opacity of the ink brush strokes wavers subtly against the translucent vellum. The visual effect is nice, but something makes me want different scale relationships, bigger stripes, or a smaller surface area, or maybe just a bigger wall for the piece. Vellum comes in limited widths, so the artist had to butt two pieces together, and it's slightly distracting.

In Fraser Stables's video piece Shower Space(2000), a large horizontal Plexiglas light box rests on its side on the floor in a darkened room. A looped video of a man and woman alternately and endlessly showering is projected onto its surface. The image was filmed upright but is projected sideways so the water flows across the luminous surface of the light box, and the bathers seem to be levitating in the horizontal stream of the shower. Technically, projecting on the light box is a great idea. As for the ten-minute video, well, naked people by their very nature always generate a certain amount of interest. After a while you start comparing their showering styles: The guy lifts his feet to wash them; the woman bends down to wash hers. One person enters the shower, washes a bit and leaves as the other one enters and washes, in this endless and haphazard cycle of bathing. It is a well-executed piece, but I felt myself wanting another element, or at least some aspect of the bathing ritual exaggerated.

This year's Core show is certainly worth seeing. It seems stronger than last year's, even if there is nothing as jaw-dropping as Leandro Erlich's amazingly surreal swimming pool. As a group, this year's artists are evenly divided by gender, but it's a pretty white crowd. More ethnic and racial diversity would be an asset, and no, the British don't count. All in all, there are some interesting things being made. Sometimes they hit it more accurately than others, but that's part of the process and risk of making art.

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