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"São Paulo 2013" The art world is currently experiencing an outpouring of multi-venue, multi-person exhibitions of 50 pieces or more. By comparison, John Palmer's 11-piece "São Paulo 2013" series seems tame. But the amount of work that went into creating the exhibition outweighs all the others. Every year, Palmer chooses a destination to visit, and, having returned, produces a body of work based on that visit that he exhibits in his gallery, the self-named John Palmer Fine Art Gallery & Studio. This year, Palmer traveled to São Paulo, Brazil. He decided on his destination based on an essay contest in which entrants were "to select from one of ten types of emotions and describe how that emotion you selected would be the best one to influence John's next international series," according to Ryan Lindsay, co-owner of the gallery. The winner was Julio Montano, whose essay conceptualized the emotion of surprise. Palmer chose to integrate the element of surprise into the entire exhibit, and instead of announcing his trip to São Paulo, told friends, family and collectors that he was headed to Shanghai, China. He didn't land in Shanghai, of course. With the help of Flavia Liz Di Paolo, an aptly named tour guide, Palmer and Lindsay embarked on four days in São Paulo, immersing themselves in the city's culture, geography and museums — even in an instance of political unrest, which they witnessed during a walking tour through the city's back streets. A mural of a bird stood out to him; ironically, Palmer's nickname is "Birdy." Thus, a black-and-white bird — representing freedom — became the second theme of the series. There are three other elements that tie each of Palmer's series to the others: intense color, photography and abstraction. Remarkably, no matter how many times they are repeated, these controlled variables never become stale in Palmer's pieces. São Paulo 2013 No. 4 (still for sale) makes use of all five themes — surprise, freedom, color, photography and abstraction. Most notable among them is the surprise that pops out in this piece: a picture of Palmer, Di Paolo and an unnamed gentleman next to another photograph of a city hall building and a bridge. All three pictures are touched up with colorful squiggles, giving the piece a light, free feeling. All 11 pieces are enclosed in a brick-red compartment titled Closed Box. This container is itself a work of art, as is Open Box, in which the red doors are flung open to reveal what's inside. What you get, ultimately, is not one piece of art but three. Surprise. 1218 Heights, 713-861-6726. — 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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