Art Capsule Reviews

"The Big Show 2007" Juror Rita Gonzalez, assistant curator of special exhibitions for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has managed to keep the crap quotient pretty low for "The Big Show 2007." Most of the unsuccessful work is only bad in an innocuous way, and she has managed to pull out some fairly interesting work from Houston's diverse art scene. Jeanne Cassanova's Somehow Inside Opalescent (2007) somehow makes candy-colored paint, glitter and floral fabric all work together in a really gorgeous way. Cassanova layers multiple line drawings with pools of pink and clear resin. Ebony Porter makes drawings with a minimalist bent. She uses tiny little dots of black acrylic paint to create geometric shapes on pristine white squares of paper, and the results are quite successful. Emily Umnus-Patrick has created a self-portrait bust, Me Me Emily (2007). Artfully sewn from felt and stuffed, the sculpture kind of looks like a giant Muppet, but it's way cooler and quirkier. Bexar's No Thanks? (2007) is pretty funny too — a slide of a man's face is projected large-scale on the wall, over giant nails sticking out from it. The nails seemingly tack up a raised eyebrow, yank down a lower eyelid and curl an upper lip more than Elvis ever could. There is a goodly amount of lame figurative work in the show, but one of the notable exceptions is L A Holloman's Incentive (2007), exquisitely rendered in oil on paper. Holloman skillfully combines two disparate images to wonderfully absurd effect. Across the bottom of the painting, a ragtag band of guerrillas gleefully hold automatic weapons aloft, while above them, giant, stylish, brightly colored espadrilles — seemingly straight out of a spring shoe ad — rain down from the sky. ¡Viva las Espadrilles! Through August 18. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK

"Black Light/White Noise: Sound and Light in Contemporary Art" The artists of this installation-oriented show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston are African-American, hence the "Black Light" of the title. But few of the pieces actually reflect a distinct black cultural perspective. And attempting to connect one to the art doesn't really yield significant results. Mostly, the connection here is the light/noise aspect of the work. Unfortunately, the curating feels haphazard and aimless, and certain pieces feel as if the artists' intentions have been mishandled. Arthur Jafa's My Black Death seems like it was improperly installed. It's a black car, a '70s Pontiac Trans Am, impaled and enveloped by a black frame. A crushed metal sculpture lies on the floor at the back end of the car. The catalog mentions that the piece was exhibited in a darkened space (ArtPace in San Antonio) where the Trans Am could barely be seen. That sounds much more interesting than the incarnation at the CAMH, where the piece has been placed in close proximity to the brightest-shining work in the entire exhibit (Nadine Robinson's Wormwood). As a result, the car is flooded with light, and its power is drained like a vampire in the sun. And where was the "distorted music emanating from the car's trunk," as the catalog states? It would've been a nice touch, but alas, no music. Wormwood, on the other hand, is impressive. It's a huge seven-point star covered in 500 lightbulbs, and it emits real heat. Sunglasses are recommended for viewing it, especially if you get really close. Inspired by the Book of Revelation, Wormwood symbolizes the "third angel's great star of destruction." Black or not, there's a talented group of contemporary artists showing their work at the CAMH. Through August 5. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS

"Give Up vs.YAR!" No doubt you've seen the ubiquitous posters with the recurring razor-blade motif on Montrose electrical boxes, billboards and exterior walls. Funny, disturbing, powerful and provocative, they're the calling cards of Give Up, an anonymous graffiti artist. He shares this show with YAR!, another artist with a graffiti background whose work has been sighted along the Hwy 59 sound wall. It's interesting to see these pieces, particularly Give Up's, in the context of a gallery show, rather than from the street, where they have a completely different relationship to their environment. In the Domy Books gallery, the Give Up posters hang legally, sheltered from the elements and advertising the merchandise for sale: Give Up prints, T-shirts and 'zines, and this drains the work of its power. One wishes Give Up had followed more in the footsteps of YAR!, whose postcard-sized watercolors of very worried-looking people and creatures — they mirror his graffiti imagery — feel fully comfortable, hoodie-down, in a gallery context. If Give Up gave us a new series perhaps, works specifically developed for a gallery showing, now that would be exciting. Through August 17. 1709 Westheimer, 713-523-3669. — TS


"The Big Show 2007", "Black Light/White Noise: Sound and Light in Contemporary Art", "Give Up vs.YAR!", "Kendell Carter" and "Raw"

"Kendell Carter" In Kendell Carter's exhibition at Finesilver Gallery, hip-hop style meets the Sun King as Carter melds the decorative excesses of Louis XIV with that of rap stars. In his drawings Bling vs. Baroque #1 and #2 (both 2007), Carter overlays line drawings of ornate royal coaches with the tricked out Hummers of 21st-century music royalty. A drawing from Rigaud's famous portrait of Louis XIV shares the page with 50 Cent. The Emperor Napoleon gets in on the act as well, his massive gold chains out-blinging Kanye West. In the center of the gallery, rococo armchairs are updated and anthropomorphized — the "Tradizzle Arm Chairs" are upholstered with red or black puffy down jacket fabric and sport a hoodie. The armrests are covered in signature "Gucci" and "Coach" fabric. Signifying status through possessions and ornament transcends century, continent and culture. In other works, Carter's focus is strictly contemporary: He turns black terry Kangol hats into pendant lamps and clusters them in the corner like a cloud of bright ideas. On an opposite wall, Carter takes the word "fresh," written in various tag styles —gothic, fat-tip or fine-line marker — and cuts them out of black or mirrored acrylic. He is a young artist making some well-crafted and witty art that will hopefully become more multilayered as he develops. Though August 4. 3913 Main, 713-524-3733. — KK

"Raw" Like the current "Give Up vs. YAR!" show at Domy Books, "Raw" is another urban-themed show hung in a boutique. Premium Goods sells shoes and T-shirts that appeal to enthusiasts of hip-hop, tattoos and graffiti art. Appropriately, "Raw" represents artists that may aspire to design marketing campaigns selling such products. One can imagine many of the images and motifs in "Raw" silk-screened onto T-shirts or emblazoned on a pair of Vans or Pumas. In fact, be prepared for a salesperson, or two, or three, to ask if you need help with anything. The curator, Melinda Mosheim (her artwork is also on display), says many pieces have been sold since the opening, and it's easy to see why. This work appeals to a young generation; it has a pop, graphic quality; and it's modestly priced for greenhorn collectors. Premium Goods takes a paltry gallery fee, too, so artists reap the lion's share of sales. James Burns's "Josh Martinez," an acrylic-and-aerosol painting on Plexiglas, depicts a young man holding up a Nike sneaker. Above him, in italic text, reads: "I've paid my dues; now I've gotta pay my bills." It makes perfect sense. Mosheim finds pieces of wheat-pasted advertising posters, some layers and layers thick, mounts them on wood and meticulously "weathers" them, revealing images and slogans. Mosheim's tear patterns are fascinating; "Her Majesty's Most Trusted," in particular, resembles a glacier plastered in publicity. Through August 17. 2416 Times Blvd., 713-523-8825. — TS

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