Jane Alexander and the Dangers of Success

Solo show at CAMH displays the artist's recent – and less powerful – work.

But despite all the practical advantages of fiberglass, its surface and connotations are deadly to Alexander's content. Fiberglass works at Disneyland, or if you are making shiny pop culture-saturated sculptures like, say, Murakami. And painted plaster worked so well in The Butcher Boys. The only time I saw the work was in 1995 at the Venice Biennale, but I still remember its haunting strangeness, the powdery-looking surface of the flesh. Those sculptures had an edge, a rawness and a presence that got you in a visceral way. The ones in the CAMH aren't Disney- or Murakami-glossy, but even in matte fiberglass they feel too much like decor at a surrealist amusement park.

The largest work is in the center of the gallery. Security (2007) is a chain-link pen inside a larger chain-link pen. Both are topped with razor wire. Inside the smaller fence is an armless figure with a bird head, its knees bent backwards in bird fashion. A layer of old, industrial, red-rubber gloves and sickles are strewn around the outside path. The pile of gloves and tools references anonymous manual labor as well as the piles of clothes at Nazi concentration camps. While at other installations a security guard was hired to patrol the perimeter, in the CAMH incarnation, what looks like a goat- or deer-headed figure seems to be taking the shift. This should be disturbing, and indeed the installation seems to shout, "Look at me, Look at me, I am disturbing!" Sure, you can see references to borders, internment, surveillance, Gitmo...but somehow it just doesn't go deep enough — it feels contrived.

The lighting may be another factor in the less than overwhelming impact of the work. I ran into Troy Schulze (the multitalented performer, director, writer — sometimes for the Houston Press — and assistant producer of KUHA's The Front Row) at the show. As an art and theater person, he was quick to comment on the evenly dim illumination. More specific or even more theatrical lighting could make a difference.

African Adventure is a multifaceted narrative that needs to be edited down.
Paul Hester
African Adventure is a multifaceted narrative that needs to be edited down.

Location Info


Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Museums

Region: Montrose


"Jane Alexander: Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope)"

Through November 4.

"Cape of Good Hope" suffers overall in comparison to early and iconic Alexander work like The Butcher Boys. But as I was leaving the show I saw Harvester, a 1997-98 plaster figure, a forlorn little ape-man sitting in a chair, his hands meekly folded in his lap, black brogues over his bare feet. The work has a handmade simplicity and a quietly poignant presence. It speaks volumes without a lot of overwrought or heavy-handed symbolism or a cast of dozens. Alexander needs to take a long, hard look at the kind of art that first brought her acclaim — and imitators. In her more recent work, she's lost track of the qualities that made the early stuff powerful.

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Holy Fuck!  This is another great example of the dangers of the "success" of an art critic.  How dare you point out that the programming of the CAM is insidiously incestuous with the rest of the art world.  God forbid they include local or regional artists of original magnitude, ie those that aren't influenced by Disney or Murakami, or one of a multitude of artists who mimick each other in the race to kiss enough status quo ass to show in such circles. Why not just google an artist or artwork before declaring originality or not, contrived, influenced or flat out copied.  Oops! How dare incite discourse that the Houston art scene is not yet mature beyond the city's conservative tide of its politics and oil industry economy and it's trust fund hobby dealers and collectors. Bored rich housewives, art clubs, contrived local talent and the successful critics that sleep with them all.  Two art fairs and imported art do not make a world class visual art city of Houston.  Contrived attire, plastic smiles, and reviews with photos of the scene do!