Not So Spectacular

This CAMH show features plenty of good work, but not much connects it together.

Dario Robleto's contribution is a real standout in the show, although Houstonians are so familiar with his work that they may take it for granted. Robleto's art puts the "O" in OCD — his Demonstrations of Sailor's Valentines (2009) is a cut-paper extravaganza that painstakingly channels 19th-century craft and sentiment through hundreds of paper flowers, arrangements of tiny shells and text in vintage lettering.

The handmade impulse has resurfaced with a vengeance in 21st-century popular culture through the likes of Etsy and the scrapbooking legions, as people ironically fetishize Grandma's crocheted bleach bottle dolls or adorn family photos with mass-produced craftsy accents that tout "Family Vacation!" or "School Days!" in cutesy fonts. But Robleto's work bypasses current hipsterism and consumerism and burrows into the core of the basic human impulse to make things with your hands, to invest time and labor, and to create things that somehow embody love, longing and loss.

Aaron Spangler's beautifully carved wood panels have some pretty obvious vernacular influences. Painted black and rubbed with a sheen of graphite powder, the striking sculptures remind me of Black Forest carvings. But the folkloric style of his three works is infused with surreal imagery and narratives — in the midst of trees, hills and foliage, a shed grows over a giant prone figure surrounded by cardboard boxes, a woman rises from a bed with a gun, and an angel appears.

Cut-paper extravaganza: Dario Robleto's Demonstrations of Sailor's Valentines.
Courtesy of CAMH
Cut-paper extravaganza: Dario Robleto's Demonstrations of Sailor's Valentines.

Location Info


Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Museums

Region: Montrose


"The Spectacular of Vernacular"

Through September 18. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.

Kerry James Marshall's great 2003 painting Gulf Stream is a less blatantly vernacular inclusion in the show. It's a riff on Winslow Homer's 1899 The Gulf Stream, in which a shirtless black man lies on the deck of a mast-less sailboat as open-mouthed sharks swim in the roiling sea that surrounds him. In Marshall's version, maxi-dress-clad women with Angela Davis-worthy Afros strike fashion model poses in the sailboat. A painted border of glittery rope and net surrounds the painting. Marshal has transformed the bleak original into a stylish Sunday outing perfect for a fashion spread and camped it up with glitter.

This show has a lot of interesting pieces, but it's not one of those tightly organized exhibitions that highlight and enhance the work they present. While any one selection may make sense in the context of the show, when you put them all together, they don't relate to each other well. Go see it for the art rather than the curatorial conceit.

Maybe I'm being too hard on "The Spectacular of Vernacular" because it suffers so much in comparison to the CAMH's award-winning show from a couple years ago, "The Old Weird America." Curated by Toby Kamps, that show had some of the same artists and references, but the exhibition and the focus were much stronger. I think the vernacular in art is rich territory, offering plenty of curatorial fodder for any number of shows, but it's not a catchall.

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