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Scenes from Summer

Highlights from this year's Art Houston extravaganza

 Art Houston, our fair city's annual dead-of-summer art extravaganza, was originally called "Introductions," and galleries used the event to introduce the work of new artists. But these days, the event is less about debuting new artists and more about luring people out of their air-conditioned homes and cars for a citywide art party happening in galleries, museums and nonprofit spaces. This year, almost 60 venues participated. The event had the usual range of the good, the bad and the ugly, but the following are a few of the highlights.

Dennis Harper has some big-ticket items in his show at Rudolph Projects/ ArtScan Gallery -- there's a shiny red Harley-Davidson and a Steinway grand piano. But Harper isn't engaged in some high-end Duchampian exercise. He has created replicas of these objects from foam core, wood and paper. Walk in the gallery, and you're confronted by Harper's Paper Motorcycle, a wonderfully oversize work with a ridiculous level of detail. Everything from the tire treads to the bike's chain to oil spots on the floor under the engine has been exactly simulated by Harper.

His Steinway sculpture, Fermata Thin Air, levitates in the second gallery for jaw-dropping effect. Convincingly crafted using the same lightweight materials as the motorcycle, it's suspended from the ceiling by thin wires. Harper's obsessive attention to detail continues here -- the end of the glossy black piano is raised higher than the keyboard, allowing you to see the faux bois painting the artist has done to the underside, wonderfully duplicating the look of wood. Even the Steinway logo over the shiny keys has been included via color Xerox. Harper has some amazing work that blends his phenomenal craftsmanship with pop appeal.

Dennis Harper creates replicas of objects using foam 
core, wood and paper.
Courtesy of Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery
Dennis Harper creates replicas of objects using foam core, wood and paper.

Details

"Dennis Harper": Through August 20

"Salvador Diaz: A Crow and Some Oranges": Through August 13

"Michael Bise: Widow": Through August 13

"Dennis Harper": Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery, 1836 Richmond, 713-807-1836.

"Salvador Diaz: A Crow and Some Oranges": Mackey Gallery, 5111 Colquitt, 713-850-8527.

"Michael Bise: Widow": Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911.


A self-portrait cutout of Salvador Diaz greets you as you walk into his show at Mackey Gallery. It's full-length and depicts the artist with fashionably tousled hair modeling a nonchalantly loose black suit over a white shirt unbuttoned over his chest. It's a beautifully painted piece, but Diaz has carefully made himself look slightly more attractive in the painting than in real life. That's something that I always find kind of cheesy unless there's also a healthy dose of irony. I'm not sure there's much irony going on here, because if you look at the artist's Web site, it opens with a dramatic photograph of him shirtless and staring intently at the viewer.

But Diaz is a skillful painter. His work is figurative and surreal, with a dose of Julian Schnabel-esque neo-Expressionism. Schnabel's name is even scrawled across one of Diaz's works. (Is Schnabel so out he's in again?) Diaz's painterly ruminations use a variety of materials. He paints on a chalkboard and old copies of The New York Times and El Norte. There is a painting of a Mexican government identification document. There are traditional paintings with surreal imagery, as well as an interesting painting with a surreal sculptural attachment, which depicts a young girl standing on her head. The painting rests on the floor, leaning up against the wall, and has a big tube of fabric that grows out of the top and arcs down, ending in a pair of tennis shoes.

Diaz also has a wall of tacked-up little scraps and sketches from his studio -- some are interesting, some are an obvious attempt to get some oddball pieces out of the studio, and some really bear little more than a swipe of the artist's brush. That kind of thing can be really pretentious, but here it comes across okay because it's nicely installed and conveys a strong sense of the young artist's bountiful creative energy. Another saving grace: The pieces are priced cheaply enough to not come across as ridiculously pompous.

While not all of Diaz's work is successful or conceptually consistent, it does fall within the artist's own loose parameters. Together, his artworks create a portrait of a young artist with a lot of creativity, talent and possibly just a little too much ego.


At Moody Gallery, Michael Bise's series of narrative pencil drawings tells the story of a widow with three daughters. Bise is working in the tradition of purposefully awkward teen-esque drawings, but there's something pleasantly obsessive about his work and his attention to evocative suburban detail. You look at the drawings and think I know someone like this, I've been in houses like this. There are hokey fringed lamps, kitschy snow-village Christmas decorations, an ugly entertainment center, a little scraggly dog wriggling on shag carpeting, and a prom picture of one of the daughters on an interracial date. In one drawing, the widow lies under a floral bedspread on one side of a too-big bed, staring at a portrait of her husband. Another, nocturnal scene depicts the facade of a suburban home with a meticulously and magically rendered night sky.

But the work breaks down when Bise tries to make the drawings more awkward than they are. His addition of the same cartoon snub nose on all the characters is really irritating. And, in the scene in which the wife and three daughters surround the gurney that carries the dead husband and father, the perspective is purposely skewed so that the figures levitate rather than stand on the floor. In another image, a nightstand is torqued in a way that's completely inconsistent with the way the rest of the drawing is rendered. Bise needs to stop trying to make his drawings more awkward than they are. His eye for telling detail and his penchant for narrative are the strengths in his work.

 
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