Capsule Art Reviews: "A Crack in Everything," "John Sonsini: New Paintings," "New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel," "Reconstruction," "Sherrie Levine: Selected Works, " "Since I've Been Away"
"A Crack in Everything" The highly touted Seattle dance troupe zoe | juniper completely transforms DiverseWorks Art Space into its own dark, weird, womb-like dreamland. The artists create an entirely unfamiliar, unnerving place through innovative video, projection and sound techniques. It's the kind of installation that makes you say "what the hell?" — but in a good way. As with many other avant-garde multimedia productions, it's hard to describe exactly what happens in "A Crack in Everything," which explores such big concepts as memory and time. But for starters, you're greeted by two wall-size photographs depicting an orderly line of naked, pale people in a forest, their heads covered by fur and their chests painted silver. Walking through a dark hallway as if you're one of the naked blind, you're flanked by two screens that depict a half-naked woman — choreographer Zoe Scofield — wearing only white underwear with silver paint down her chest and stomach. She's dancing in jabbing yet still graceful moves, her form multiplied and overlapped hypnotically. You then reach a slightly elevated white platform that has two large screens propped next to each other — this is the real meat of the installation. There's enough room to walk between them or on either side, or you can sit on risers against opposite walls and watch. On both screens, an hour-long video loop features projections of life-size dancers wearing futuristic black tunics. Their images multiply, overlap, disappear and reappear. (In several live upcoming performances, dancers will play with these, bending what's real and what's not even further, though the installation does stand alone with or without this element.) There's more strange beauty to behold in this installation, but some pieces simply defy concise synopsis, sparking deep, emotional reactions that are unique to each viewer — go see it for yourself. Through February 25, with live dance performances at 1 p.m. February 4, 11, 18 and 25. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — MD
"John Sonsini: New Paintings" Anyone acquainted with John Sonsini's work knows the drill. The Angeleno would find subjects for his portraits by picking up day laborers at street corners and Home Depot parking lots, paying them their normal hourly wages to sit for him. They picked their clothes and poses, and Sonsini painted them mostly straight on. Given the rare opportunity for this country's Mexican immigrants to represent themselves as they, for the most part, see fit, the concept has the makings of a saccharine Hollywood script. But these are good, painterly paintings. The 11 works on view at Inman Gallery demand that you spend time with them, examining each quick, thick brush stroke, noting the acute attention to detail in every puff of chest hair or thin mustache — a remarkable task, given the abstract quality of the work — and returning the gaze of each of the male subjects. The subjects sport jeans, khakis, security uniforms and, predominantly in this show, fútbol attire, soccer balls held close to their sides. One subject chose to go topless, leaning against a table, a perfect illustration of the raw honesty that these portraits convey. The unique expressions on each of the subjects' faces are also remarkable. The eyes — seemingly the same black pupils on white — are all uniquely expressive. Their postures, too, are carefully composed, arms fiercely crossed, or hands casually in pockets. All the men are painted against more free-form blocks of pastels. In some spots, these backgrounds aren't complete, revealing the white of the canvas. This unfinished quality gives the pieces a hurried feel, an appropriate sense of time and labor spent. I do have one serious gripe with Sonsini's admirable work, though — where are the ladies? Through February 25. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD
"New Paintings: Geoff Hippenstiel" It seems trite to say an artist's work is exciting — how often have you heard that before? But that's the exact reaction I had when viewing Geoff Hippenstiel's new, large paintings at Devin Borden Gallery. In his first solo show here since his well-received MFA show at the University of Houston in spring 2010, the abstract oil paintings are almost too big for the gallery to contain. They take up its main exhibition space, its storeroom, even its office, making for some nice, colorful scenery at two desks. Every single one of these works is untitled — even the show is simply called "New Paintings" — but they're not without their own backstories. In short, the Houston artist starts off with one central image — Monet's lilies, Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, even, randomly, a Goya-bust award statue — and paints. He paints until the original inspiration is barely recognizable, though traces of it remain beneath the surface. As a result, the paintings feel familiar, and yet completely new. Whether it's the starting image or the artist's obsessive painting over it, the same material is always used — oil paint — but in an almost meta moment, Hippenstiel's viscous patches of metallic paint start to take over the work. The paint itself — its color and its thickness — becomes the subject, squeezing out the lilies or covering the pale gold of the Goya head in a bright green. In another painting, the original image is indiscernible, covered almost entirely in a thick blanket of shiny silver, erasing whatever came first. Experiencing the effacing quality of paint in this context is simple, but still exciting and completely alluring. The paint wins. Through March 13. Devin Borden Gallery, 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Reconstruction" The Art Car Museum's group exhibition model sounds like a recipe for disaster — put out an open call for works, and take the first 125 that you get. Oh, and give them a one-word theme. But that's the case with "Reconstruction," the annual open call show running now at the Heights space. Yes, the art is a mixed bag. Many of the 100-plus pieces are forgettable, largely too arts-and-craftsy for any serious consideration (a lawn ornament-type piece of a fence sculpture with the word "love" written on each board, and an artist's framed tribute to her dad, complete with beer bottle caps, come to mind). There's plenty of quirk and pop culture references — a glass replica of Roy Lichtenstein's M-Maybe, a Che-esque Chihuahua — though not a lot of substance. There are a few standouts, to be sure, as you maneuver between the art cars. Baby Oh Baby by Sam VanBibber is a little piece of ingenuity — wood and watch parts coming together to form some demented, antique-looking contraption. Shannon Duckworth's The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, which features neon red, blue and yellow brains sprouting from a tree-like toxic cauliflower, is intriguing. Tusk by Hazel Ganze — a horn made of wire — is beautiful in its shiny simplicity. The experimental Development by Jeremy Lovelace, a messy, splattered piece with sketches of ghostly women, makes me want to see more by the artist. Karen Pawson-Smith's Corporate Calf: Read the Fine Print, a papier-mâchéd golden calf wearing sunglasses and a bowtie, is sure to be a favorite of all the camera-toting visitors. And, of course, there's the featured artist, Sherry Sullivan, whose recognition here is well-deserved. Her lush nature paintings are transportive, containing worlds within her careful, orange-outlined water imagery. Finally, among the more topical works, there are a few "Occupy Wall Street" references, most prominently in Allen Rice III's spirited Reconstructing Liberty, that are a good fit here. The egalitarian spirit of this show is an appropriate call for the 99 percent. Through March 2. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD
"Sherrie Levine: Selected Works" Sherrie Levine is having a bit of a resurgence lately, thanks to "Mayhem," a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and a forthcoming catalog this spring of the same name. But you don't have to go all the way across the country to see the modern art fixture's work. Here in Houston, Hiram Butler Gallery is hosting a small, but still lovely, show of the artist's work. The serene grounds, clean, sparse, white walls, and pointed roof of the gallery give the space an almost religious feel, as if you're worshiping the artist. And worship Levine, Butler does — the gallery owner has been a fan of the artist since the early 1980s, right around when she blew up with her After Walker Evans series, in which Levine claimed photos by the Depression Era photographer by rephotographing them herself — and giving critics and theorists much to ponder about authenticity and originality in art in the process. The collection of paintings and drawings here, which span 1986 to 2000, is by no means meant to be exhaustive — there aren't any sculptures, for one — but the survey has some noteworthy series by the artist. Of note is her Barcham Green Portfolio — five etchings that borrow from cultural icons, including one of Evans's photographs (or is it Levine's?), as well as prior works by Levine — a delicate image of bark and gold leaves that nods to her work with plywood. Mondrian and Degas are also sources of inspiration, admiration and, ultimately, material. The 1995 series After Degas is particularly marvelous, featuring a suite of five lithographs that are replications of archival prints of Degas's work, his signature comically visible in some, but shrunken and erased of his subtle color. This method of brazen replication that Levine has become synonymous with is made even more relevant — though rarely questioned — in the Internet age. Levine's show almost got lost in the holiday shuffle, but thanks in part to the Whitney exhibition, the gallery is extending its run, so you have time to go worship at her altar. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD
"Since I've Been Away" David Lozano's paintings lie to you. In his solo show at PG Contemporary's new space, there's image after image of psychedelic patterns of blues, magentas and greens. These ribboned, weaving or spastic splashes of color stretch out, like pours of paint, over fuzzed-out, blown-up photos of rooms, street scenes or entirely unrecognizable grounds. But in fact, it's all meticulously, painstakingly planned. The seemingly random "pours of paint," à la Jackson Pollock? Created with a brush and sign painter's enamel. Those fuzzed-out "photographs" that, combined with the enamel, seem to evoke another dimension? Airbrushed (not the Photoshop kind, but the painting kind). It's a neat trick at first when you realize those intense, bold colors are not the work of some elaborate pouring process, but the hand of the artist, who's clearly studied paint movement. But with painting after painting of the same thing, this trick quickly loses its charm. While the pieces are fun, even "fabulous," as the artist says — there's even one yellow, orange and blue concoction aptly called "Joy Pop" — beyond that initial illusion that attracts your eye, there's not much substance. It's all contrived chaos, with the paintings lacking the carefree, spontaneous nature that they seem to be trying to convey. There was one piece that managed to stand out from the dozen other loud works — the teal, orangey-pink "Crush of Glimmer." This one stood apart, thanks to some detailed, even sensual, patterns that abandoned the effect of poured paint, and a stretch of pink and blue sequins. Yes, sequins. It's a pretty campy number as a result of this "bling bling," to use the words of a gallery-goer. But it's one that can really call itself fabulous. Through February 11. 3227 Milam, 713-523-7424. — MD
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