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Art Capsule Reviews

"China Under Construction: Contemporary Art from the People's Republic" Curated by Beijing-based curator Maya Kóvskaya, this exhibition is intended to explore literal and figurative ideas of "construction." Wu Gaozhong's large photographs depict mold coating small ceramic objects. A pagoda, a bridge and an archway are all covered with layers of decay. Multicolored mold blooms over the objects' surfaces, partially obscuring the brightly colored ceramics and creating a lurid display. In these images, the symbols of China's past quietly molder away. At the entrance to the gallery is Han Bing's Age of Big Construction (2006); its documentary footage of construction and destruction focuses on bleak and decaying landscapes rather than shiny new Beijing skyscrapers. In the video, it looks like every old building is being torn down, and not by a wrecking ball but by a group of guys with sledgehammers. With over a billion people, labor is apparently far cheaper than heavy equipment. How many basket-carrying people does it take to equal a dump truck? Han gives you a glimpse of how brutal, widespread and backbreaking change is in China. Wanli Mari deals directly with the plight of China's workers by creating work based on newspaper reports of abuse. Called the Migrant Workers' Daily, after the People's Daily, the main government paper, Wanli's fiberglass reliefs mimic a newspaper layout, with an image and a Chinese caption below. The images have a quirky folk-art-meets-socialist-realism look to them. Gallery owner Deborah Colton has lived in Asia for years, and her decision to have Kóvskaya curate was a good one. Through August 31. Deborah Colton Gallery, 2500 Summer St., third floor, 713-864-5151. — KK

City Glow Self-styled Pop Art star Chiho Aoshima emerged out of the "factory" art group founded in Tokyo in the late '90s by Takashi Murakami. Her computer-generated images reference manga comics and anime cartoons, with wide-eyed characters and line drawings. Like Murakami, Aoshima believes in the contributions pop genres have made to the art world at large. Tucked away underground in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Chiho Aoshima's installation City Glow (2005) sits behind a cafe and next to the escalators. Don't feel bad for her, though: James Terrell's The Light Inside tunnel and Damien Hirst's installation End Game are good company in the basement. The cyclical piece is told through a five-screen animated video of telescoping layers that comments on deteriorating climate conditions. Plants, animals and anthropomorphic skyscrapers grow, bloom and die throughout the course of the seven-minute piece, perhaps predicting the death of civilization as the balanced world of the opening scenes mutates into a nightmare apocalypse set in a blood-red graveyard. Highly recommended for Nipponophiles or anyone bored with painting and sculpture. Through October 21. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — SC

"The David Whitney Bequest" "The David Whitney Bequest," currently on view at the Menil Collection, is a strange little exhibition of works from Whitney's collection, which were bequeathed to the Menil. The show is curious for its double-sided mission. On one hand, it's a wonderful sampling of works by contemporary art legends like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol – and, in a sense, the world and scene they represented. On the other, it's a window into the mind of a collector: Whitney's championing of, and influence on, modern artists. Whitney reserved perhaps the bulk of his interest for Jasper Johns. This exhibit contains 17 works on paper by Johns, spanning the artist's entire career, with works made as recently as 2004. There's also Cy Twombly's Untitled (1959), a pencil on paper squigglefest that, at first, looks like it belongs on a proud parent's refrigerator door. Time spent in reflection is always rewarded with Twombly, though, and the work responds by revealing an intricate, well-composed pattern. Don't miss three of Robert Rauschenberg's early transfer paintings, contemporaneous of Warhol's early silk screens. Ghostly impressions of baseball players, horses and other Texas-inspired imagery haunt the hazy, greenish realms of these works. Not surprisingly, on the opposite wall from the Rauschenbergs is Warhol's 1980 portrait David Whitney. An intense black-and-white snapshot of Whitney with his fingers clasped under his chin, it brilliantly anchors the exhibit. Three tones of gray fan elegantly across the paint­ing, the middle one perfectly zoning Whitney's eyes, which seem to say, "Gaze upon my influence and impeccable taste." Through October 28. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS

"When the Animals Rebel" The fifth installation of Rice Gallery's Summer Window series is a striking combination of painting and sculpture incorporating thousands of hardcover books, stacked against and affixed to the 16-by-44-foot wall behind the gallery's glass facade. When the Animals Rebel is Los Angeles-based artist Mike Stilkey's expressionist fantasia, which imagines a clash between humans and animals. Stilkey claims he knew nothing of the German painter Otto Dix (1891–1969), although Stilkey's spindly human representations bear an uncanny resemblance to the German expressionist's work. One could conceivably spend an hour or two perusing the book spines, titles and illustrations on display, stepping up close and retreating back to take in the massive work. The range of book titles includes Herman Wouk's The Winds of War, Ivana Trump's For Love Alone and even a series of old Rice Campanile yearbooks. Stilkey's happily revolting animals seem to swarm and overwhelm their sad-eyed human opponents, one of whom is an elegantly rendered caricature of a young Bob Dylan. It's perhaps a reference to the wonderfully lyrical and poetic environment of the piece. On view through August 31. 6100 Main, 713-348-6069. — TS

 
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