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Capsule Art Reviews: "The Beauty Box," "Fantastic Habitat," "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "In Residence: Work by 2012 Resident Artists," "MURMURATIONS," "Self, Model, and Self as Other," "Texas Biennial Invitational"

 "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

"Fantastic Habitat" "Fantastic Habitat" is a series of 11 photographs that begin before the camera points and shoots. Before hanging them in Lawndale Art Center's Cecily E. Horton Gallery, Susi Brister spent time gluing together wildly patterned fabric and textile materials, which she then draped over unknown objects in natural settings. Some of the fabrics and textiles look tribal, and thus more aligned with the second half of the exhibition's title, such as Black Trees (2013), while others, such as Crystal-Studded Shag in Dunes (2012), a cylindrical object covered in funky white fur, and Spangles, Limestone (2013), a tiny cylinder cloaked in red, silver and black sparkles, look more fantastical, doing service to the first half. Is Brister tampering with nature? A subtle manipulation is more like it. By taking these artificial, man-made creations and dropping them into organic settings, she creates a tug-of-war between the natural and the unnatural, challenging conventional notions of what is beautiful: the natural or the artificial? Or both? Maybe she just wants to spice up a mundane scene of trees, rocks and sand dunes with pretty objects. Speaking of pretty objects, what's underneath all those textures and textiles, anyway? That question is moot. Whether the covered objects are animate or inanimate is a matter of conjecture, and the anonymity is what makes these pictures so compelling. But don't worry. It's not the bogeyman hiding under those pieces of fabric, except in 613 Silky Straight in Swamp (2013), which is certainly Bigfoot bent over. He's alive! Through September 28. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — AO

"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," donated to the museum by Wilson after her death, is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

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