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Capsule Art Reviews: "The Beauty Box," "Dining In: An Artful Experience," "Funnel Tunnel," "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "Impressions | Abstractions," "Summer Studios 2013"

 "The Beauty Box" This is the brainchild of local mixed-media artist Robert Hodge, who, with partner Philip Pyle, a sculptor and digital artist, has converted an open-air space in the Third Ward into a replica of a living room, like "your grandmother's living room or dining room," says Hodge. The front door, located on Dowling Street, opens into a cozy home setting. A wooden dining table with two antique chairs upholstered in deep burgundy fabric greets you. A golden clock glows against red wallpaper. On the floor sits a 1970s Quasar television; above it, pictures of anonymous family members. On the top shelf of a wooden case sits a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta; farther down, a portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Jackie. About halfway through, that red wallpaper changes to blue, with a white couch seated between the two. A lamp glows. A chair sits. A mirror reflects. A Houston native and Third Ward resident, Hodge chose to create "The Beauty Box" as a way to connect with the community's rich past. Starting in the 1930s, the Third Ward became the pre-eminent neighborhood for affluent and aspiring African-Americans. After the oil bust of the 1980s, however, the economy of the area declined, families moved out, and a culture of drugs and homelessness moved in. The space that now houses "The Beauty Box" became a Third Ward eyesore, an empty lot filled with weeds and weed, emblematic of a neighborhood in decline and used, according to Hodge, "as a public restroom." Starting on July 5, the pair spent three days clearing the lot, mowing overgrown grass, tossing out used needles, and removing human and animal feces. About once a week, Hodge and Pyle clean the installation regularly, faithfully, hoping "The Beauty Box" will inspire a reversion to the Third Ward of yesteryear, a time when "painting your house, picking up trash, not drinking a 40 and then throwing it on the ground" was the norm. "I want this to mean a sense of pride," Hodge said. Until September 30. 3902 Dowling, 713-820-0520. — AO

"Dining In: An Artful Experience" This juried exhibition, on view at 18 Hands Gallery, features art that you eat with. Gallery co-owner Betsy Evans explains that these pieces are multifunctional, for use as decoration or on a dining-room table. However, a close inspection agrees more with the first option. While there are a few functional pieces, most of the exhibit's works are better suited for hanging on a wall. Take, for instance, Angela Stickels's Self Portrait platter, a Picasso-inspired creation of lips, lids and leaves. Stickels slices her face in two and places each side on opposite ends of the platter. Heavy makeup accents her eyes and lips. Just imagining a two-year-old splattering his spaghetti and meatballs all over this work of art is enough to induce hot flashes. And though her Celebrate Everything cake stand proudly bears the image of a cupcake with pink frosting, it's too pretty to be covered, even by Aunt Gertrude's blue-ribbon angel food cake. Daryl McCracken's The Blue Hole is a plate that also doesn't deserve to be covered and demands respect. It starts out light blue at the edges, swirling into a vortex of darker and darker hues of blue, until in the middle, a pool of Bermuda blue waits to suck you in. The effect is both pretty and otherwordly; the varying blues recall the Earth's horizon. Jan Dreskin-Hais's Plate of white, coral and black repeating triangles is just as hypnotizing, the shapes repeating themselves all over the plate. Who in his right mind would cover these with Hamburger Helper? If you must make function of fine art, the exhibition's drinkware might stand a chance. Though pretty like their plate partners, these cups, teakettles and mugs are more convenient, since what's ingested hides inside and it's the outside that counts. Caleb Zouhary's Black & White Soy Sauce set is architecturally stunning. The tiny teacup and pot set settle into a seashell holder, the whole of which is polished with a bright cherrywood glaze. Naoko Teruya's Condiment Set, which won Best of Show, features four pieces — two ceramic pots, a salt shaker and a pepper shaker — in shades of ashen coal and burnt coral. The pots stand side by side, spouts extended upward, like two soldiers at attention. Mary Linda Lewis's Florida Memories pitchers are embellished with leaves and lemons, primed and ready to pour cold lemonade. This is 18 Hands's sixth annual "Dining In" experience, according to Evans. She operates the gallery with Karen Cruce and Katy McKinin. All three women are ceramic artists, and the majority of artists featured in the gallery practice ceramics, as well. There are a few fiber and jewelry artists thrown into the mix, but the purpose of 18 Hands is "to expose Houston to a larger range of ceramic artists," says Evans. To wit, there are 40 of them featured in this exhibition. Through September 1. 249-B West 19th, 713-869-3099. — AO

"Funnel Tunnel" Clunky, streaked wood and wiry metal are the last things one would consider using to celebrate Art League Houston and the colorful Montrose neighborhood that surrounds it. Then again, talent is as talent does, and bare-bones as they may be, Patrick Renner's pieces are feats of size and color. Bounded Operator (2012) is a wall of windows glued together and filled with sand, rock and gravel, mingled with pieces of wood splashed in tie-dye, exchanging its windowpane aesthetic for a swirling metal one. The rainbow brightness of Wooddauber (2012) is one of many rainbow-colored chunks of wood from Renner's "Vestigial Structures" show exhibited last year at Avis Frank Gallery. The two pieces are combined to create "Funnel Tunnel," a metal-on-wood masterpiece so big that Art League publicly called on volunteers to help paint the wooden strips in the weeks before its opening. Before then, Renner could be seen blowtorching metal pieces together to create a wiry foundation for the wooden strips to attach to. It would, however, be inaccurate to describe "Funnel Tunnel" as skeletal. While other Renner pieces may come off as hollow, the wood and metal in "Funnel Tunnel" work together to create an artwork representative of the inclusive nature of the area around it. Those wooden strips? Painted in the hues of the rainbow, they very accurately represent the diverse people, businesses and culture of Montrose. The metal? Permanently melded together to hold the rainbow strips of wood, it represents the collectivity of this community. These materials create a 180-foot civic art sculpture seen whirling down the center of Montrose Boulevard. "Funnel Tunnel" will be on display in front of Art League Houston for the next nine months. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

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