Capsule art Reviews: "50 Shades of Green," "The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute," "Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona," "Funnel Tunnel," "São Paulo 2013," "SPRAWL,"
"50 Shades of Green" The influence of the impressionists is very much at play in the new collection "50 Shades of Green," at the Archway Gallery. The show is composed of the works of painters Judy Elias and Harold Joiner. The collaborative collection features a variety of oil paintings, mostly of outdoor settings, in which "the artists realized...the prominence of green as a modifier." The artists also share a similar style, and there's a good deal of overlap in content. Joiner's work is primarily nature — lush landscapes, running bayous and parks, many of which are located in Texas. The paintings that stand out are those that veer more toward the realistic form. Elias's group of works falls more on the impressionism side of the spectrum. Where she finds distinction is in her subjects. There are many beautiful paintings in "50 Shades of Green," but you've seen many of their kind before. The rationale for placing two very similar artists together in one collection is understandable, but the overlap between the two painters' styles, impressionist influence and settings did more harm than good. Through January 30. 2305 Dunlavy, 713-522-2409. — AK
"The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute" These days, Impressionist exhibitions are the art museum version of the ballet The Nutcracker: frothy and beautiful, if a little overexposed, and sure to pack 'em in at almost any price. Even though we've already had at least six or eight Impressionist shows during the past ten years, who could fail to love yet another one that includes 70-plus paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and Degas, among others? That's what the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is offering with "The Age of Impressionism." This isn't a star vehicle so much as an ensemble piece; these aren't the paintings that make the textbooks. They are, rather, a tribute to the taste of a collecting couple with very good eyes for art and lots of resources (that is to say, money) who were buying paintings to enhance their own lives at home rather than to dazzle tourists in museums. Frankly, unless you're something of an art specialist, you may have trouble remembering many of the paintings individually a day or two after you've seen the show. But if you're lucky enough to see it under the right conditions (not too many other viewers, the right kind of light that so often suffuses the galleries in the Rafael Moneo-designed Beck Building at MFAH, at a time when you're really in an art-viewing mood), you're almost certain to remember the deeply satisfying feeling that comes from standing in galleries surrounded by beautiful, harmonious paintings. Not at all a bad memory to take away from any exhibition. Through March 23. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — RT
"Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona" Antonio Berni (1905-1981) was Argentina's greatest 20th-century artist, a greatness recognized far beyond Argentina during his lifetime. Since his death his fame has faded, especially in North America. The exhibition "Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona," on view at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is an effort to show us what we've been missing. Berni's work is visceral, slap-you-in-the-face art, tongue-in-cheek at times, but always with the knowledge that the tongue could be bitten off. The pieces in this exhibition, created from the 1950s through the 1970s, tell the stories of two characters set in a world Berni dreamed up based on the real Buenos Aires he knew: Juanito Laguna is a poor country-boy-moved-to-the-city, struggling with his family to survive and thrive in the shantytowns of massive (and massively changing) Buenos Aires; Ramona Montiel is a working-class girl who finds that prostitution pays better than dressmaking, a few occupational drawbacks notwithstanding. Berni employs the assemblage technique — creating works out of materials found in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires — to put his message tangibly, even jaggedly, before us. Entering Berni's imaginary world takes some effort, but once you make that effort, he takes you to places and introduces you to people (and monsters) you won't forget. Through January 26. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — RT
"Funnel Tunnel" Clunky, streaked wood and wiry metal are the last things one would consider using to celebrate Art League Houston and the colorful Montrose neighborhood that surrounds it. Then again, talent is as talent does, and bare-bones as they may be, Patrick Renner's pieces are feats of size and color. Bounded Operator (2012) is a wall of windows glued together and filled with sand, rock and gravel, mingled with pieces of wood splashed in tie-dye, exchanging its windowpane aesthetic for a swirling metal one. The rainbow brightness of Wooddauber (2012) is one of many rainbow-colored chunks of wood from Renner's "Vestigial Structures" show exhibited last year at Avis Frank Gallery. The two pieces are combined to create "Funnel Tunnel," a metal-on-wood masterpiece so big that Art League publicly called on volunteers to help paint the wooden strips in the weeks before its opening. Before then, Renner could be seen blowtorching metal pieces together to create a wiry foundation for the wooden strips to attach to. It would, however, be inaccurate to describe "Funnel Tunnel" as skeletal. While other Renner pieces may come off as hollow, the wood and metal in "Funnel Tunnel" work together to create an artwork representative of the inclusive nature of the area around it. Those wooden strips? Painted in the hues of the rainbow, they very accurately represent the diverse people, businesses and culture of Montrose. The metal? Permanently melded together to hold the rainbow strips of wood, it represents the collectivity of this community. These materials create a 180-foot civic art sculpture seen whirling down the center of Montrose Boulevard. "Funnel Tunnel" will be on display in front of Art League Houston for the next nine months. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO
"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
"Wols: Retrospective" Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze's art is like his personality was: nonconformist and uncompromising. Wols was a principal adopter of "Tachisme," an outgrowth of the "Art Informel" (art without form) movement. Wols's "formless art" is different from abstraction in that, even in the ruin, there is still the faint outline of an image. Wols's art was also ever-changing. Thanks to this restlessness, the German artist's catalog is a bevy of photographs, watercolors, oils and the occasional ink doodle. What a fortunate coincidence that Wols was one of Dominique de Menil's favorite artists; her expansive museum makes room for "Wols: Retrospective," an exhibition that takes up nearly the entire first floor. Starting with two big spaces, the exhibition disappears into smaller and smaller rooms. Turn right, and you come face to face with Wols's Tachisme paintings. Each of these oil-on-canvas works starts out as stains of one or two colors, with more and more color added toward the center, until in the middle, a smudged, abstract mess drips down the canvas. Careful observation reveals subtle images in the center of this pile of goo. Oiseau (Bird) is a picture of poultry; without the image of the bird, there would only be a green-stained background filled with a bevy of colors that looks like chicken (get it?) scratch. Turn left, and you enter a room filled with small- to medium-size watercolor, ink and gouache pieces. These are less polished than the oils, looking like something Wols scribbled down quickly while in art class. While the other pieces are a centripetal pull into a center of schizophrenic colors, these little works draw you in with ink markings. In a smaller adjacent room, the walls transition from white to blue. Washing the walls in baby blue encourages emotion as the viewer encounters the most personal pieces in the exhibition. The photographs in this room are of random odds and ends and of Wols himself. Self-Portrait (Wols grimacing) is a series of six photos that show Wols to be a funny, balding man with a heavy mustache and large, expressive eyes. Next to it, Untitled (Grety's Mouth) is a half-parted pair of lips, wet with either lipstick or spit. It's hard to tell which, since the photo is in black and white, and, with only a single name in the title and a monochromatic color scheme, it's difficult to discern if the subject is a man or a woman. The only tell is a crop of facial hairs sprouting from the upper lips, and even they are sparse enough to warrant confusion. These photos, however eyebrow-raising, are where the spirit of Wols truly resides. If the main rooms are where the viewer learns about Wols the artist, it is here, in this dark cove, that he or she learns about Wols the man. Through January 12. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — AO
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