Capsule Art Reviews: "A Room of Her Own", "Carlos Cruz-Diez: Crosswalk", "Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil", Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), "Hypnopomp: Britt Ragsdale", "Tierney Malone: Third Ward Is My Harlem"
"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
"Hypnopomp: Britt Ragsdale" A haunting, humming audio emanates from the sheet-draped forms that cling to the walls and floor of Lawndale's room 317. After a couple seconds in "Hypnopomp," Britt Ragsdale's third-floor installation at Lawndale Art Center, you realize that the crumpled sheets seem to obscure bodies curled in the fetal position or sprawled in sleep — or maybe death. You begin to pick out the shapes of hips and rears and shoulders from the mounded terrain of the fabric. Are they people, or are they apparitions? Do you dare peek under the fabric or place your hand on a shoulder? The sheets are cream-colored, rather than a cold white, lending a warm somnolence to the sculptures. (FYI: They were created by molding wire mesh over models, and the baroque folds of the drapery are held in place by liquid starch.) The figures on the walls, stuck there like spitballs, are most unsettling. Through incredibly simple means, Ragsdale has conjured up a hallucinatory, otherworldly environment. Through December 19. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — KK
"Tierney Malone: Third Ward Is My Harlem" When you enter DiverseWorks' main gallery and look to the left, a mural spans the entire wall. One of the first words you read is "Tierney," but before you assume it's a reference to Tierney Malone, the artist who directed the creation of the mural and whose paintings wrap around the gallery, you do a double-take. It's a reference to Gene Tierney the actress, since the huge panel is a kind of zoomed-in look at the movie poster for Laura, Otto Preminger's atmospheric 1944 film noir. Malone is a lover of movies and music, and his work echoes the flickery, fleeting feeling that both of those mediums convey. But Malone is less concerned with imagery; he's fascinated by text. "Third Ward Is My Harlem" is Malone's homage to the "catz" who inspired him during the late '80s and '90s when he immersed himself in the Third Ward artist community, as well as the music and art he discovered during that time. His collage paintings utilize text from record album covers, corn bread boxes and just about anything that piques his interest, generating nonlinear narratives that exude a mysterious, ghostly and dead-sexy vibe — like the aforementioned actress. Be sure to check out the amazingly outfitted little theater in the gallery. It screens a short movie that reinforces the work on display and even amplifies that jazzy, flickery quality Malone's paintings naturally embody. Through December 19. 1117 East Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS
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