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Capsule Art Reviews: "Ballast/Break," "A Brave New World" "New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection," "Reconstruction," "Soundforge," "Toni LaSelle: Climate of the Heart: Paintings from the 1950's"

"Ballast/Break" I'm not so jazzed about the 2D works in Alexis Granwell and Carrie Scanga's "Ballast/Break" in Lawndale Art Center's project space, but there is some pretty nice 3D stuff going on. There's nothing wrong with Granwell's large drypoint and monotype prints, images that look like architectural sketches for yurts. They just aren't that interesting. Granwell's sculpture, however, has much more potential. Her best work in this small show is Palimpsest and Things to Come (2011), a tall, narrow structure that takes an angular network of wire wrapped with creamy white handmade paper and props it up with a scaffolding of randomly sized one-by-twos. It's light, elegant and clunky all at the same time. Meanwhile, Scanga's little works on paper present images of house-like forms. Completely competent, just kinda dull. But when she starts using that paper to build architectural forms, the work becomes much more powerful. She creates bricks from paper and builds a short, chimney-like structure. It rests on strands of wire stretched across the gallery, seeming to float in the air. The artist printed etchings on tracing paper and then wrapped the paper around bricks. She creased the edges, removed the brick and taped the paper back together into a brick-like form. The structure is incredibly light and fragile, slowly sagging into itself under its own weight. It's a nice piece and was apparently going to be much taller, but airflow from the gallery's vent was problematic. The black-and-white image on the exhibition brochure shows an amazing floor-to-ceiling structure. I'd love to see that one as well. Through January 7. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK

"A Brave New World" Of the three artists showing at Peel Gallery, Magid Salmi is certainly the main draw of this compact, thoughtful show, curated by artist Jennifer Ash. He followed up a well-received show at Spacetaker, featuring his "Frankenfood" photographs, to the Art League of Houston's juried exhibition, "Gambol," earlier this month. Here, Salmi treads territory similar to the works that won him a cool grand at Art League, building on his "GMO Quarantine" series, but here it's a feast. He's created a rainbow of his neat, small fruits (cherries, raspberries, grapes), which have been prodded with computer circuits and then, if that didn't already make them inedible, cast into resin. The fruits are arranged in three-by-three petri-dish grids, and with the repetition of those grids, varying by color and fruit, you could easily dismiss it as more of the same, but each piece is still so transfixing — you can't take your eyes off this stuff. It's certainly creepy, with nods to the rampant practice of genetically modified engineering, but thanks to the small scale, the works still somehow also come off as rather adorable and digestible. Magid is one mad, crafty scientist. Artist Richard Lund is also mad in a sense — he uses mathematically inspired patterns to create complex yet neat arrangements of screws and plastic caps. Even if you don't know about the math part, you can sense some sort of exact, obsessive attention to detail going on in his rows of varying primary reds, blues and yellows, like a pixelated Mondrian painting. They lend themselves to some interesting 3-D effects, but other than that, the works don't elicit much emotion to really hold me. Timothy Ripley makes exquisite oil paintings of weird, cellular-like organisms. First he crafts them from polymer clay, then photographs them and finally paints them to create multimedia pieces, all in one. The results are as intricate and detailed as Lund's sculptural works, but as strange and captivating as anything Salmi can dream up. Through January 7. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — MD

"New Formations: Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection" Avant-garde Czech erotica, anyone? "New Formations," an assemblage of early 20th-century Czech work collected by Mary and Roy Cullen, presents some pretty wonderful things: everything from glassware to periodicals to the aforementioned erotica. And like most shows of private collections, you should visit it for the objects and glimpses of the period it contains rather than to receive a comprehensive overview. Jindrich Štyrský's 1933 text and photomontage, Emile Comes to Me in a Dream, was only distributed through the mail. One of his collages, on view in the show, illustrates why. A photo of a half-naked woman clutching a feathered fan is paired with a photo of a skeleton with its boot still on. Štyrský stuck an image of an erect penis over its pelvis. It captures the decadence bookended by the carnage of WWI and WWII. Tamer but equally impressive offerings in the show include amazing art glass from the '20s and '30s, in which Bohemian glassblowers turned their considerable skills to dramatic modern forms. Through February 5. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK

"Reconstruction" The Art Car Museum's group exhibition model sounds like a recipe for disaster — put out an open call for works, and take the first 125 that you get. Oh, and give them a one-word theme. But that's the case with "Reconstruction," the annual open call show running now at the Heights space. Yes, the art is a mixed bag. Many of the 100-plus pieces are forgettable, largely too arts-and-craftsy for any serious consideration (a lawn ornament-type piece of a fence sculpture with the word "love" written on each board, and an artist's framed tribute to her dad, complete with beer bottle caps, come to mind). There's plenty of quirk and pop culture references — a glass replica of Roy Lichtenstein's M-Maybe, a Che-esque Chihuahua — though not a lot of substance. There are a few standouts, to be sure, as you maneuver between the art cars. Baby Oh Baby by Sam VanBibber is a little piece of ingenuity — wood and watch parts coming together to form some demented, antique-looking contraption. Shannon Duckworth's The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, which features neon red, blue and yellow brains sprouting from a tree-like toxic cauliflower, is intriguing. Tusk by Hazel Ganze — a horn made of wire — is beautiful in its shiny simplicity. The experimental Development by Jeremy Lovelace, a messy, splattered piece with sketches of ghostly women, makes me want to see more by the artist. Karen Pawson-Smith's Corporate Calf: Read the Fine Print, a papier-mâchéd golden calf wearing sunglasses and a bowtie, is sure to be a favorite of all the camera-toting visitors. And, of course, there's the featured artist, Sherry Sullivan, whose recognition here is well-deserved. Her lush nature paintings are transportive, containing worlds within her careful, orange-outlined water imagery. Finally, among the more topical works, there are a few "Occupy Wall Street" references, most prominently in Allen Rice III's spirited Reconstructing Liberty, that are a good fit here. The egalitarian spirit of this show is an appropriate call for the 99 percent. Through March 2. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD

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