"A Thing Called Early Blur"

Impressive and magical: Moon Huge And Low And Does Not Leave.

Katrina Moorhead's exhibition at the Blaffer Gallery, "A Thing Called Early Blur," looks like Iceland. Well, not like the actual country, which is more temperate than icy, but how you imagine a place called Iceland should look. Everything is pale and frosty, with works that glitter and glisten. Organized by Blaffer curator Claudia Schmuckli, the works in the show grew out of Moorhead's monthlong residency in Reykjavik, Iceland, a country the Blaffer press release describes as "famed as much for its lively party scene as for its dramatic natural beauty." Moorhead collected ideas and impressions as her travel souvenirs; works in the show are inspired by everything from vodka bottles to waterfalls.

The exhibition opens with a lot of little subtle drawings, done in white watercolor on sheets of pale paper faintly tinged green or blue. There are two drawings of evergreens that feel a little contrived, but a delicate image of the Astrodome is pretty funny. Drawn in the middle of the empty page, it becomes some alien polar outpost. Another drawing is based on a swatch of lace. A nearby pedestal holds an empty bottle of Reyka vodka. Moorhead has drilled it full of holes, and it looks as lacy and fragile as the drawing. It's a nice touch; I haven't seen anyone do anything that cool with an old liquor bottle since the Ronco bottle-and-jar-cutter ads of my childhood.

In the center of the room is a plinth with two grayish-blue boxes surrounded by bits of paper debris. One of the boxes is labeled "RED GREEN BLUE PEONY." The other bears what looks like the symbol for explosives. The muted matte color of the boxes is enticing, but that's about it. If you read the wall text, it turns out the objects themselves are a reconstruction of fireworks boxes, but that doesn't make them any more interesting.


"Katrina Moorhead: A Thing Called Early Blur"

Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530.

Through July 28.

The standout in the gallery is a large framed drawing propped up against the wall. Moorhead has rendered in graphite the shadows from a glacier. On the expanse of white paper, the shadows become a collection of abstract splotches that read like Rorschach blots. Moorhead's decision to lean the drawing up against the wall, angled like the side of a mountain, is a display strategy that works surprisingly well without feeling affected.

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Leading from the first gallery to the second is the splendidly over-the-top Horizontal Waterfall After T.H. (or How You Lost Your Loveliness) (2007), made of giant sequins — the kind that dangle from a nail and flutter with breezes. Blending kitschy signage with natural splendor, Moorhead has made wonderful use of an awkward hallway space. It really does feel like a horizontal waterfall as lines of sequins in chilly gray, silver, blue and white create a flowing rush of frosty, sparkling color that leads into the second gallery, which houses Moorhead's meisterstück — or, rather, meistaraverk in Icelandic.

Round the corner into the darkened second gallery, and an illuminated sheet of polar ice seems to be floating in the middle of the space. Delicate patterns of white and colored light radiate out from the mass onto the gallery walls like a small-scale aurora borealis.

Closer inspection reveals Moorhead has actually filled the room with a giant platform made out of Sheetrock. Like the vodka bottle in the first gallery, the platform is drilled full of holes, mostly in its two-and-a-half-foot sides, which look like someone went mad with a giant hole puncher. Releasing light from inside the platform, the holes glow and project lacy patterns of both white and flickering colored light on the walls. Realizing Moorhead has created the piece with simple Home Depot materials does nothing to lessen the dramatic effect. It makes Moon Huge And Low And Does Not Leave (2007) even more impressive and magical.

Not every artist can drop into a foreign place and internalize it enough to make successful art about it. In "A Thing Called Early Blur," Moorhead blends a quiet wit with visual elegance, creating a sensitive body of work in response to her stay in Iceland. That's the kind of thing people who run artist residencies always hope will happen.

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