Capsule Art Reviews: "Anodyne," "Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst," "Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion," "Pictures and Words," "Push Play"
"Anodyne" It's difficult to label Joe Mancuso's work by any traditional means. Is it sculpture? Painting? Installation? All of the above seem appropriate in the Houston artist's latest show at Barbara Davis Gallery. These art vocabulary-defying conundrums begin with the piece Bouquet. It's a careful arrangement of polywood, with flower pieces layered on top of each other in a methodical process — Mancuso's even left his pencil marks noting which piece goes where on the work. This bouquet is all about the texture — there's no color here, just white on white, as the piece is attached to the gallery wall for a pleasing effect. The petal motif continues throughout the exhibition. Precious Field is comprised of row upon row of hand-cast porcelain in the same flower shape as Bouquet, but cleaner and on a much, much smaller scale. Hundreds of these flowers (it's too dizzying to count precisely) were identically made by machine and then laid by hand on the linen canvas, making for an unexpected domestic quality and clever contrast between these mechanical and human touches. Two related works — Culture (waterlillies) and Waterlillies — are comprised of circles of white latex of varying sizes dropped across the surface of the canvas. In Culture, the latex is dropped onto newspaper, making for one of the most colorful pieces in the show, even if it's still dominated by white. "Anodyne" is a modest show — there are only nine works — but it's plenty. Each piece needs room to breathe, there's so much detail to take in and appreciate (in Precious Field, for instance, each flower cleverly has screws in the middle where the pollen would be). The relevant spring-like feel and overwhelming use of white add a likable lightness to the show, too. "Anodyne" does mean inoffensive, after all. Through May 5. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose #600, 713-520-9200. — MD
"Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst" Willem van Aelst made a career out of painting still-lifes of fine goods — furs, precious metals, feathers. In other words, items that would have appealed to his wealthy clientele. To think of it another way, it's like a modern-day artist who paints Louis Vuitton purses. But if painted by van Aelst, they would be the most stunning Louis Vuitton purses you have ever seen. Van Aelst was a virtuoso painter during the 17th-century Dutch still-life era, though, in a crowded scene, he hasn't always gotten his due (artists like Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch, the latter of whom he taught, are his better-known contemporaries). In fact, Van Aelst has never had an exhibition devoted solely to his work until now, with this show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The exhibit features 27 oil paintings pulled from the artist's known canon of about 150 works. It is a fitting tribute to the skilled painter, who rose to the challenge of matching the sumptuousness and brilliance of the luxury objects he painted. Granted, it wasn't all glamor; about half of the works on display here feature game — trophies of rabbits, roosters and rams that are almost too realistically depicted as they stare back at you, dead in the eyes — along with the luxury. The other half of the show is devoted to his paintings of flowers and fruit. Both display his use of radiant color, nuanced lighting and fine attention to detail, down to the blood on a chicken's beak in Hunt Still Life with a Velvet Bag on a Marble Ledge, a missing button on a hunting jacket in Still Life with Birds and Hunting Equipment or a fly on a dead rooster in Still Life with Birds. There are many little discoveries like these to be made throughout the show, which traces van Aelst's development as an artist. Through May 28. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — MD
"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" McArthur Binion's show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston features a repetition of geometric shapes — triangles, squares and circles — varying only by color. To make them, he presses wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels in a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing. The result of all this repetition, however, is that once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements — pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely. One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry) — a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show, whose title is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca. With just a few simple lines, Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you. Through April 1. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — MD
"Pictures and Words" Geoff Winningham doesn't so much tell stories with photographs as he spots other people's stories and photographs them. They're fleeting images — thought-provoking relics of people who have long left the scene of the crime, or are unknowingly part of it. These often anonymous, mysterious stories comprise this retrospective of sorts at Koelsch Gallery. Most photos are pulled from different series Winningham has shot over the past 40 years, chosen because they're either a picture of a picture, or a picture of words. It's a simplistic conceit that reaps big rewards. For "Photos," there's the collage of news clippings, magazines covers and photos on an abandoned barn in Leadville, Colorado. Winningham broke in to take the shots in 1994, and, after some detective work, found they dated as far back as 1943. Time gave these clippings an aged, frozen-in-time look — sepia in action, no Instagram necessary. For "Words," there's a series of handmade signs that Winningham found on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There's one advertising carne asada, another "dirt-sand," a third for gasolina, but with the word humorously broken up into "gasol" and "ina" to fit onto the wood. The jackpot, though, is a long, unexpectedly poetic tirade by one Joseph C. Dunn against the harassment he's apparently faced at the hands of the FBI. Read it in full. Winningham reprinted the majority of these works for the purpose of this show, and the materials used are as diverse as his subjects. There's an incredible piece from the Leadville series comprised of carbon pigment on brushed aluminum, as well as photogravures, archival inkjet prints, vintage gelatin silver prints and German Etching paper, to name a few. Winningham has really experimented, and the show is enjoyably engaging as a result. Through April 21. 703 Yale St., 713-626-0175. — MD
"Push Play" In his first solo show in eight years, for those keeping track, Kyle Young picks up right where he left off. His bold paintings continue the play with geometric shape and order that he's become known for in his new show at Art Palace. And the colors are as bright as ever. Young has been operating a fairly successful art storage and refurbishing company, Ty-Art, handling the care and treatment of other people's art. That detail gives a whole new way of looking at his work here. Most of his paintings have been chopped up, first painted on a whole canvas, which is then sliced into even pieces that are rearranged very carefully to make the canvas whole again. It sounds like a nightmare to potentially destroy your art, but the works are very clean and smooth, handled with utmost care and each piece placed just so. That's not to say they aren't without tension. In such pieces as Fathers and Dialogue — Red & Orange, your mind tries in vain to piece the work back together to its original, more familiar form, the visible strokes of paint no longer connecting from piece to piece. Similar to this reordering and rearranging to create something new, some of Young's works also deal in inverses. The most impressive of these, Chalice Reversed, shies away from the artist's bright pastels and works with just black and white — with the black largely engulfing what little white there is. It is a giant and takes up one of the gallery's walls. The work references Chalice, a much smaller painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's collection that consists of the same image and proportions, but with the black white and the white black. A simple detail like that, even without the referenced work displayed, reminded me that this is a piece of art that has a history, a lineage, and no one work is ever really "done." Through April 7. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events