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"Rachel Hecker: Group Show" The massive foam finger isn't even the strangest thing you see in this exhibition. Nor is the snowman, the twirling bottle of Xanax or the huge ear stuffed with a cotton ball. Indeed, the most curious thing in "Rachel Hecker: Group Show," Hecker's new exhibit at Art League Houston, is a pile of jumping peanuts atop a white column. The Peanuts (2013), which are actual edible legumes, are attached to motorized magnets, causing them to jerk and jump around at random intervals. It is these Peanuts, in their abject randomness, that define the entire exhibition, a collection of 18 sculptures and paintings that sit and hang throughout the gallery in no particular order. Yes, it is odd. But as Hecker explains, "I want to give myself more permission to do whatever occurs to me without reservation." As for the Peanuts: "I like things that are animated that shouldn't be animated." Hecker is an artist who defies artistic authority. Though her main medium is large-scale painting, she "deplores" the rigidity of it. And so, while creating series such as notes-lists 1, paintings of handwritten grocery and to-do lists, she would create odd, figurative sculptures as the ideas struck her. "Group Show" collects these off-ramp oeuvres and puts them into Art League's Main Gallery. Altogether, "Group Show" looks like the shambles of a mental meltdown. Next to the bottle of Floating Xanax is The Ear That Cannot Hear (2006), which gets a corner to itself. As it sticks to the wall, the "cotton ball" made of EPS foam sits inside its canal, so while you're doped up on meds, your auditory senses are suspended as well. The lean pink skin of Finger Statue (2013) features a freshly manicured nail on the front, a stamped happy face on back. The hanging Peppermint Air Freshener (2006) is actually wood cut into an exponentially larger model of a car air freshener, then lacquered in a red so bright that you almost catch a whiff of its advertised candy-sweet smell as it swings from the gallery ceiling — even if your thoughts are fuzzy and your ears are blocked, you can still smell. Again, odd. Prudent guests would avoid this madness, mind the Caution Cuidado (2013), the acrylic on canvas re-creation of police tape, step over the rabbit hole, and forgo the topsy-turvy world of mechanics and medicine bottles in favor of a more conventional art experience. Hecker, however — the Artist in Wonderland — jumps in fearlessly, tearing past the warning tape into a world with no limits and no rigidity — and it pays off. "Group Show" is fun and exciting, a departure from restrictive canvases of straight lines and plain colors. And that's exactly what she wants. Through November 15. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

"SPRAWL" Showing at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, SPRAWL explores the tenuous relationship with Houston geography, at once loved and loathed by citizens and non-citizens alike for its far reach and uneven plain. Co-curated by Susie J. Silbert and Anna Walker, the exhibit stretches throughout HCCC's gallery, mimicking the something-here, something-there pockets of nothing design of the Bayou City. Additionally, the 16 artists who lent their creative hands to the exhibition provide works drastically different from one another. Like Houston's diverse cultures, cuisines and ZIP codes mashed into one "sprawling" space, this clash of craftsmen works. The exhibition is divided into three sections: "Infrastructure of Expansion," "Survey, Plan, Build" and "Aftereffects." Heading up the first section are the beautiful black-and-white stalactite structures by Norwood Viviano. His Cities: Departure and Deviation (2011) illustrates the population growth of 24 cities from 1850 to 2010. The illustration was done using blown-glass cylinders of different heights, lengths and circumferences that hang from black rods attached to HCCC's ceiling. Each circumference is different, based on the population of the respective city, as is the distribution of black and/or white coloring. Most of the cylinders start out black at the bottom, then become white to represent a city's population growth over time. On the wall, a graphical representation of each city's growth is outlined in a grayish vinyl, an excellent explanation of percentage growth for the mathematically challenged. In the very center of Cities, an all-white cylinder represents the city of Houston. In 1850, the city had only 2,396 residents. By 2010, that number had skyrocketed to more than two million — 2,099,451, to be exact. The theme of work and play is present in "SPRAWL" 's "Survey, Plan, Build" section. Dustin Farnsworth combines playhouse and seesaw for Looming Genes and Rooted Dreams, while Paul Sacaridiz's An Incomplete Articulation (2011) is construction site meets jungle gym. In the same tradition, orange-and-green soccer balls lie haphazardly beside the wooden work benches in Sacaridiz's towering structure — the discarded toys of children playing near an unwieldy stack of wooden planks nod to a decision to put away childish things in favor of growth. In Julia Gabriel's art, the "Aftereffects" of expansion and building are a chic metropolis, depicted in the form of six leather backpacks. These are not just any backpacks, though, and this is not just any metropolis. Lined up side by side, they represent Congress @ Bastrop, Houston, Texas (2013). The actual street is a lineup of old buildings, and, lined up side by side, the staid color and the clunkiness of these six backpacks copy the original. On the far left, two beige backpacks are outlined in red and white trim. On the right, one lone brown backpack gets a spot. In the middle, three blue backpacks outlined in white trim stand tall — wearable mini-models of the dilapidated, graffiti-laced behemoths that sit dejectedly on Congress today. Through January 19. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — AO

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