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Back to the Future

Andrea Bowers presents life before Roe v. Wade

Bowers seems to be trying to introduce an element of the decorative throughout the show. The bound Xeroxes of letters are interleaved with sections of wrapping paper. Her precise colored pencil drawings illustrate "Pro-Child, Pro-Choice" and "Keep your hands off my body" buttons against contemporary and modishly organic floral patterns. But the standout drawing is the most unadorned one a lovingly exact duplication of a photograph from Pat Maginnis's files showing a young woman seated at a desk with signs that read "Abolish all abortion laws" and "US deaths 1966, Vietnam 3,000, Abortion 7,000." The cracked edges of the photograph are rendered as well and, drawn in the center of an expanse of white paper, it feels like an especially precious artifact.

Bowers likes beauty and seems determined to avoid making work that is visually sterile. There is nothing wrong with that; her work doesn't have to be aesthetically dull because she's dealing with a political and historical issue, but the choices she's making need to have more to do with the subject at hand. Putting pretty paper between letters from desperate people and rendering the buttons against cool designs that were probably fun to draw were no doubt satisfying for the artist, but they feel extraneous. The beauty thing even extends to the readers in her video; while they are ethnically diverse, they're pretty uniformly attractive. You get the impression that unattractive, overweight people don't need abortion information.

The letters themselves are the most powerful part of the show.
Courtesy of Glasell School of Art
The letters themselves are the most powerful part of the show.

Details

Through March 5
Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Boulevard, 713-639-7500

The copies of the letters are ultimately the most powerful part of the show. The handwritten words are not only an artifact of a time period but also of an individual in crisis. Unfortunately, too many people flipped through the oversize pages of the book, damaging it. It's been removed from the show to be conserved. But 30 or so of the 100-plus letters are in the video just be prepared for the floral cavalcade. In "Letters to an Army of Three," Bowers has created a work that, in spite of some flaws, is provocative - and, unfortunately, timely.

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