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Art Capsule Reviews

A picture of our opinions on local exhibitions

 "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

"Nexus Texas" This exhibition's title stresses the simple, focused connection on display: Texas inspires exceptional artists. Some of the only ostensibly Texas-inspired work (there's very little) comes from Houston's El Franco Lee II. His paintings freeze explosive, mostly infamous, moments in sports and urban culture. Rudy T. Vs. Kermit Washington captures "The Punch" that reverberated through the sports world on December 9, 1977. Technology looms large in Texas, so it's no wonder artists choose to explore it. Paul Slocum's performative objects combine antique electronic devices with pop music and digital imagery. For Combat, Slocum hacked a 1977 Atari 2600 console and the game it came packed with (Combat) to create a loopy, self-deconstructing cyberpunk symphony. Music is a major element of Justin Boyd's eerie sculpture/installation. On the floor, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder plays a droning recording of a female voice — kind of a long, wavering moan. Impressively, the tape spools have been attached to wooden pyramid frames which flank the recorder and elevate the spools; the tape itself is effectively fed into the air, creating a huge, stretched-out triangle. Amy Blakemore's striking photos convey an inexplicable sadness. Most melancholy is Dad, a photo of Blakemore's father in his hospital bed just minutes after he died. Elegantly composed, it almost comes across as a painting. And not to be missed is Roberto Bellini's video Landscape Theory, depicting birds and a sunset in a parking lot outside Austin — and a conversation with a security guard who advises Bellini to turn off his camera and leave. The discussion is amiable, but it reveals paranoia. Through October 21. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

"Practice Makes Perfect" Curator Jeff Ward has tamed work by the wildly varying artists at the Glassell School into a linear, illuminating exhibit about repetition and reproduction. Amy Lorino's photographs echo each other in form; she concentrates on symmetrical compositions, often focusing on school halls and doorways. Judith Freedman's small bust sculptures vary slightly in each incarnation, lending them underlying personality. Lillian Warren has shown extensively in town while taking classes at the Glassell; her paintings recording familiar views along feeder roads are solid, repetitive and insistent. From the opposite end of the spectrum comes Bobbye Bennett, whose watercolor paintings evoke aboriginal patterning and emotional organic life. But the most exciting project featured is the collaborative Stranger Drawings, realized by Emily Grenader and dozens of Houstonians. Grenader solicited anonymous photographs from people on the street and on Web site Craig's List, then distributed them to artists to create their own versions of the photos. The result is a cacophony of styles as diverse as the people involved, and at the opening the air was buzzing with excitement as the photograph donors first saw what their personal images had become in the hands of artists like David Ubias and Seneca Garcia. Finally, if you missed your opportunity to see the documentary Hot Town, Cool City, take a few minutes and stop by the Glassell to check out Maureen McNamara's documentary on Houston's art scene. Through November 2. 5101 Montrose, 713-639-7500. — SC

"RED HOT: Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection" Another purported survey of the contemporary art of an entire continent based on the tastes and buying habits of one collection, this exhibition varies wildly in quality. Among the good is Korean artist Do-Ho Suh's massive fiberglass sculpture Karma (2003), in which two legs wearing men's black dress shoes and suit pants extend through the gallery ceiling, poised in mid-stride. Clusters of tiny figures are shown running in the shadow of the giant soles. Are they fleeing, or are they carrying a giant in Lilliputian fashion? It's a wonderfully ambiguous, but dramatic, work. Other standouts include Sheng Qi's Memories (Me) (2002), a large photograph of the photographer's flat, open, pinky-less hand holding a photo of himself as a small boy. (Sheng severed his pinky to mourn friends killed in Tiananmen Square.) On a lighter note, Chinese artist Cao Fei's Hip Hop New York (2006), captures people in Chinatown dancing to the satiric Chinese-American hip-hop group Notorious MSG. The most problematic pieces are the Chinese pop-influenced works, about which one observer quipped, "it looks like freakin' Disneyland." The show lacks any early examples of political pop, and there are some bad paintings here. Take Zhao Bo's street scenes. His Chinese Portrait #8 (2005) shows a businessman on a cell phone with McDonald's Golden Arches and Mao in the background. Look, communism and capitalism! Another shows a crowd on the street with the Chinese flag and an image of Spider-Man. These hastily painted works, with their large signatures and subject matter targeted to foreigners, look like tourist paintings, each a quick variation on the same theme. Through October 21. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK

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