Capsule Art Reviews: "Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008," "Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento," "Detritus," "No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston"
"Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988-2008" The photographs Amy Blakemore takes with a crappy plastic camera can make you cry. Dad (1999) is an image from this exhibition, a 20-year survey of the artist's work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The entire time I was in the gallery, people kept stopping and lingering in front of the photo Blakemore took of her father, Robert Blakemore, just after he died. Images of death lure people in, but usually it's the shocking photojournalistic kind. This simple, quiet picture dunks your head in a bucket of loss. Every photo captures a particular moment in time, but Blakemore's capture concentrated doses of human experience. If you know her work at all, you probably know that she shoots her photographs exclusively with a Diana camera. The Diana is a 1960s plastic camera made in Hong Kong by the "Great Wall Plastic Factory." The Diana was so cheap, it was given away as a carnival prize. But the sheer crappiness of the camera is part of the appeal. Its inherent defects — the photos it produces are vignetted and blurry, with low-contrast, oddly colored images — yield haunting images in Blakemore's hands. Amy Blakemore should be a lot better known than she is. Her work merits it. But she's a solid, thoughtful artist, not a careerist, as low-key and unassuming as her work and her choice of camera equipment. This survey, sensitively curated by the MFAH's Alison de Lima Greene, is well deserved. Through September 13. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Carlos Runcie-Tanaka: Fragmento" Runcie-Tanaka, a native of Peru with Japanese and British heritage, makes ceramic sculpture that integrates his many cultural influences—which are indeed indicative of Peru. According to the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, the works function as symbols of spiritual growth and interethnic unity. It's unfortunate that the museum's installation tries too hard to emphasize those aspects. The dark, solemn lighting is fine—one work, Tiempo Detenido, actually requires it (and it's used to great effect). But the cheesy Peruvian flute music that permeates the gallery detracts from the universal nature of the sculptures as objects, and beautiful ones. Huayco/Kawa/Rio is a series of spherical forms incorporating shards of broken pottery that references Japanese ceramics. Manto continues the fragment theme; it's a low glass case displaying a layer of pottery shards that have been haphazardly pieced back together interspersed with forms that look as if they were purposely slumped in the kiln. It's an interesting piece to consider, but it's loaded by its environment to suggest a spiritual mystery that somehow cheapens its fascination in chaos. You may find yourself, as I did, wandering around to find the source of those damn flutes. Through October 18. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — TS
"Detritus" Painter Angela Beloian and sculptor Jessica Moon Bernstein both employ discarded materials in their work. They're also both Colorado-based artists and take inspiration from environmental concerns. Recycling materials is a way for them to mitigate mass consumerism, but there's nothing overtly activist in the works on view in "Detritus." Bernstein's Inflatable Detritus Rabbit, made from plastic grocery bags and kept aloft by an air motor, and Well Hung, a conglomeration of penile forms made from inner tubes and wooden balls, score for their outright silliness. Beloian is more concerned with enhancing unwanted objects with oddly organic logic. Superstar is a series of 34 vinyl record sleeves obscured with bright-colored ink and gouache that allows the viewer only the vaguest hint of the recording artist/album. (I could only make out the Grateful Dead and the soundtrack to the film Times Square.) The sleeves are not only recycled, but also stripped of reference to their previous incarnations. Also worthwhile is another exhibition of recent paintings by El Franco Lee II, "Visual Harassment." The exaggerated works imagine events like Hurricane Katrina, the autopsy of Tupac Shakur and the dragging death of James Byrd with grim humor and grisly horror. On view through August 28. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS
"No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston" This exhibition features the work of about 20 local artists and teams of artists who have created works outside of museums and galleries, often site-specific or performance-based pieces. Many of the participants began engaging their environments in the '80s, and the show includes installation elements from past works to just-recent ones. It's an adequately interesting exhibit of local talent in a historical context, but it lacks almost any relevance to what makes these works powerful in their own skins. For instance, Cleveland Turner's Flower Man House in the Third Ward is represented by a mock-up on the CAMH's front lawn. Besides the potential to point visitors toward the real thing, a crazy, colorful mish-mash of junk, toys and whatever else Turner finds or visitors bring him, the surrogate can't begin to embody the soul Turner's actual residence contains — especially because it's not a museum. It's a house. Similarly, artist Jim Pirtle's stand-in for notsuoH, the downtown art project/hangout he started in the '90s, misses the mark. The assemblage of display cases, paintings, old records, books and other ephemera won't re-create an actual late-night visit to Pirtle's domain at Clark's on Main. While the installation might bring back incredible memories for some, its twisted logic won't translate to the uninitiated. In conjunction with "No Zoning," Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth got married to a live oak sapling the morning of Saturday, June 13, at the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. I was out of town and unable to attend the wedding. After viewing the video, I can't say whether it was a brilliant performance. So much is lost on not having actually been there. And with The Art Guys, that's kind of the point. Through October 4. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. 713-284-8250. — TS
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