Capsule Art Reviews: "A Room of Her Own", "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk", "Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil", Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), "Dario Robleto: Some Longings Survive Death"
"A Room of Her Own" Group shows of women artists are exceptionally patronizing when the only connection between the works presented is that they were all made by someone with a vagina. That's the organizing principle behind "A Room of Her Own" at McClain Gallery. The title is pretty awful as well, but thankfully the work isn't. This may be a catchall show, but there are some things definitely worth seeing. Alice Neel is always wonderful, and David, her 1968 portrait of a small, wiry boy in a big green armchair, is no exception. Judy Pfaff's Turkey Hill (2009) showcases the artist's characteristically exuberant use of diverse materials — it's like a Pfaff installation within a shadow box. But it was Tara Donovan's sculpture that blew me away. Some of you may remember Donovan's 2004 installation at Rice Gallery, "Haze," in which she created an ethereal, cloudlike wall from an unlikely material — clear soda straws. Here she's created an even more amazing optical effect with buttons. Donovan painstakingly stacked and glued clear buttons into irregular, mountain-like peaks and valleys. It's a striking sculpture, but what happens optically is phenomenal. There is a soft, fuzzy, flickering blur over the entire thing — even close up. I have no idea what causes it, maybe all the misaligned buttonholes, but you have to see it. Through January 2. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — KK
"Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk" You only have to drive past the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to see some of the hippest public art in Houston. The 86-year-old Carlos Cruz-Diez, a pioneer of optically kinetic art, has created an amazing street installation for the MFAH's crosswalks along Bissonnet/Binz Street. Cruz-Diez's vibrant pattern of horizontal and diagonal lines overlays Houston's potholed and eroded asphalt streets with dynamic art. It makes you wonder why we don't do this to all of our crosswalks. The artist has created street installations before, but this is his first in the United States. The Venezuelan artist's work was one of the standouts in the MFAH's landmark survey of Latin American avant-garde art, "Inverted Utopias," and is included in the current MFAH exhibition "North Looks South," so you might want to park the car and head inside. Plus, they've got great air conditioning. Through December 31. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil" This rarely exhibited painting by Cy Twombly is accompanied by several works from the artist's private collection that "document," in a sense, the piece's creation. Treatise on the Veil comes from Twombly's "gray-ground" period (1966-1971) and very much resembles a huge chalkboard with a mysterious musical composition drawn across its lower half. The work was inspired by Pierre Henry's musique concrète composition The Veil of Orpheus, and it represents the moment in the myth when Orpheus, in an attempt to rescue his dead wife Eurydice from the underworld, breaks the rules of the gods and looks back at his wife, thus losing her forever — one of the most heartbreaking scenes in literature. That musical moment in Henry's composition is rendered as the sound of fabric tearing. Twombly, in effect, attempts to represent that sound in his own invented musical script. The piece is powerful in its size (nine feet by 32 feet) and simplicity. It's truly operatic. But the additional works on display don't necessarily support or detract from the major work. Twombly's always best when he goes big. We don't need to see the rehearsals. Just give us the performance. Through February 14. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III) It's big, it's bright, it's art-historically important, and it's at the MFAH. Frank Stella's epic, 50-foot painting Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III) (1970) is billed as the last in his "Protractor" series. Stella broke onto the art scene in the late 1950s with the stark lines of his "Black Paintings." He went on to introduce color into those lines, and the shaped canvases that he used define the curves of the "Protractor" series. In Damascus Gate, Stella, influenced by the geometric patterns of Islamic art, flirts with the decorative. Today Stella does more than flirt with the decorative — his work has deteriorated into what amounts to corporate interior decoration. Damascus Gate could be billed as the last painting Stella made before his art jumped the shark. Through March 31. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Cullinan Hall, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Dario Robleto: Some Longings Survive Death" Fresh from scoring a coveted Yo La Tengo album cover, Texas artist Dario Robleto is back with an exhibition that Inman Gallery calls his "most ambitious to date." Ambitious, since Robleto had to build a time machine in order to execute it. The artist, known for his superhuman abilities to postpone the end of the world (thanks, Dario!) and incite revolution among neighborhood pets (my cat says, 'Thanks, comrade Dario' for turning him on to the Sex Pistols), includes implements in his works like a "million-year-old raindrop" (aren't they all?) and recordings of "extinct languages." But the question is: Why didn't he just go back in time and make himself a brilliant artist? Robleto obviously idolizes Damien Hirst; he could've stolen all Hirst's ideas and made millions. You really have to see this show to believe it, because it all comes down to whether or not you believe Robleto's bullshit. Granted, Robleto is skillful, especially when he's exploring ideas like death and rebirth, elegantly rendered in his beautiful display cases memorializing the oldest living humans and "Lazarus species" of once-thought extinct animals that were rediscovered alive, complete with antique plaques and paper flowers, but then he includes elements in other works like "stretched audio tape of various lovers recording their partner's heartbeats as they reflected on each other" or "tear water" or "volcanic ash from Mount Saint Helens." Let the eye-rolling begin. Everyone knows that Mount Saint Helens ash was a scam back in the '80s, and unless you're a lovesick teenager obsessed with witchcraft and Twilight, you'll get a suspicious feeling that what Robleto claims is braided "50,000-year-old mammoth hair" really came from Wig Mart. I mean, I want to believe. I just don't. Through December 31. 3901 Main. 713-526-7803. — TS
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