Capsule Art Reviews: "AES+F," "Andreas Nottebohm: Into the Light," "Claire Ankenman: Slices," "Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976," "Howard Sherman: In my mind, you're inflatable"
"AES+F" AES+F is a Russian art powerhouse comprised of Tatiana Arzamasova, a conceptual architect; Lev Evzovitch, a conceptual architect and filmmaker; Evgeny Svyatsky, a graphic artist; and Vladimir Fridkes, a fashion photographer for the likes of Vogue. The group combine their diverse skills to spectacular effect: Their work is slick, smart and infused with a sense of the macabre. Three phenomenal installations by the collaborative are on view at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in "AES+F," curated by Olga Sviblova. The installation Suspects: Seven Sinners and Seven Righteous (1997) contains large photographs of 14 teenage girls. Seven of them are convicted murderers, and seven are ordinary Moscow high school students. AES+F doesn't tell you who's who. The portraits are all taken the same way; they're head-on, mug shot-like images against a white background. Ultimately, anybody could be anything, the series seems to say. The photographic series Defile (2000-2007) presents seven life-size images of people clad in avant-garde fashions. You might think it's just Fridkes exercising his fashion-photography skills — until you notice the models' sunken eyes, crudely stitched autopsy scars and rigor mortis. AES+F shot pictures of unidentified corpses at the morgue and then digitally clad them in edgy fashion. It's a provocative strategy, and showing big pictures of dead people has a creepy allure. Last Riot (2007) is the centerpiece of the exhibition. This apocalyptic three-screen video presents a surreal, digitally animated panorama of the end of the world. It's a tour de force, a dark and intensely contemporary vision. Through February 29. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — KK
"Andreas Nottebohm: Into the Light" Andreas Nottebohm's tinted and engraved raw metal surfaces walk a line between art and novelty. Like those computer-generated stereograms that require forced optical distortion to make out the hidden three-dimensional forms, Nottebohm's works can induce dizziness and vertigo if you stare at them too long. By meticulously scratching flat sheets of raw metal, Nottebohm creates clearly demarcated 3-D zones that penetrate and project from the surface. Some pieces have an almost liquid feel; the surface ripples as you move around it. Into the Light #11 features a central 3-D triangle hovering over horizontal bars. The shimmering metal reflects the gallery's multicolored lighting — dimmers can be adjusted to achieve the right palette. A series of four panels depicts targets, almost like 3-D versions of Jasper Johns's iconic works. It's impossible to resist taking a close look, as if to reassure oneself that the surfaces are actually flat. But spellbinding as they may be, the pieces tend to repeat their effects, and their initial thrill ebbs. Nottebohm's technique is outstanding, though. The possibilities are exciting. Through February 16. New Gallery, 2627 Colquitt, 713-520-7053. — TS
"Claire Ankenman: Slices" At first, "Slices" seems like a study, an exploration of a technique. Ankenman has carefully sliced, like a pie, circular sections of paper that have been colored with gesso, coffee and red tea. This minimalist approach at first feels mechanical and soon turns spooky and a little unsettling. The thin tendrils of paper, slightly curling toward an inward cavity, begin to represent wounds in skin, and sometimes the coffee and red tea eerily look like dried blood or an infected redness. A triptych, Slices #23, #24 and #25, could be frames of time-lapse photography taken of the traumatic damage done by the cutting, from initial injury to festering and into monstrous swelling. It becomes clear that Ankenman is exploring something deeper than just cutting; she's delving into the effects of penetration and the scars left behind. Also on display are a series of cast-bronze versions of the theme, and interestingly, the bronze mimics the look of paper, its texture and volume. They're like old, fossilized remnants of pain. If visual art can be called "Cronenbergian," this is it. Through February 16. Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt, 713-526-9911. — TS
"Contemporary Conversations: Robert Ryman, 1976" It's difficult to look at a Robert Ryman painting without an initial feeling of being cheated. The artist has limited himself almost entirely to the color white as a way of boiling down the essence of painting to a reduced process, the very act of laying paint on a surface and subsequently installing the work in a viewing space. Ryman once said, "There is never a question of what to paint, but only how to paint." To many viewers, Ryman comes off as a snake-oil salesman — selling pennies for a dollar. It's somewhat infuriating, and that's exactly the feeling you should have, but you should also keep looking. Once you've broken through that exterior facade, Ryman's work begins to release rewards. These three 1976 specimens, part of the Menil Collection's "Contemporary Conversations" series, are very stark examples of Ryman's oeuvre; all-white panels of pastel and oil paint on Plexiglas and blue Acrylivin are fixed to the wall with steel fasteners and bolts. It's the most distilled version of performance art ever, and the "I don't get it" exhibit of the year. And in a weird way, it's kind of thrilling. On view through February 17. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
"Howard Sherman: In my mind, you're inflatable" Like abstract scenes from a red-light district, Howard Sherman's paintings reflect an undercover world of commodity. In bright color and dynamic, angular and broadly layered coverage, Sherman depicts a delightfully garish and confrontational urban conflict. It's impossible to know the narrative, but sometimes Sherman supplies a character that we can glom onto while his intangible tornado blows through town. Judging from some of the titles, like Paralytic Hooker, Titanium Dildo and Donkey Punching Bastards, the "inflatable" Sherman imagines must be of the female variety found at adult bookstores. Sometimes it's possible to make out a commanding image, like the phallic one in Colossal Jerk. But here's where the paintings' titles influence what we perceive, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's interesting to imagine them untitled. Sherman has peppered these works with little repeated motifs, like syringes, that nail down the environment. It feels mythic, too, like that place doesn't really exist anymore. It bleeds Lower East Side, Manhattan, circa 1981. Through February 16. McMurtry Gallery, 3508 Lake, 713-523-8238. — TS
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