Capsule Art Reviews: "Anthony Thompson Shumate: Cocky," "Dynasty and Divinity"
"Anthony Thompson Shumate: Cocky" When you're an artist, people offer you all kinds of comments on and advice about your work, something they would never think of doing to, say, an accountant. Anthony Thompson Shumate decided to use those remarks as fodder for his show "Cocky" at Barbara Davis Gallery. Shumate created a host of works based on and titled after specific quotes, like "Why don't you get a real job?" or "Why can't you paint a fucking rooster? Everybody likes roosters!" or "Can't you make it bigger? How does it look in red?" Until you know this, you'll undoubtedly wonder why stuff like a tie, roosters and a urinal are together in one show. The coolest object — "You know I've seen a piece like that before. Do you even know art history?" — is the urinal. Rather than just signing it, à la Duchamp, Shumate "pimped his urinal" with a thick coat of automotive paint and pin striping. How cocky. Through December 31. 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — KK
"Dynasty and Divinity" When you walk into this exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it feels like you are walking into a crowd of people. It's filled with the faces of distinct but long dead individuals, depicted in striking works of stone, terracotta and metal from the ninth through 15th centuries. First among the standout works on view are the exhibition's cast-copper-alloy heads representing the rulers of Ife, which are essentially family portraits. The cast-metal heads are highly naturalistic; you can tell that each was modeled after a specific person. They are, however, depicted in a way that idealizes them as rulers; neither fierce nor haughty, they emanate a calm, elegant serenity. Their smooth features are composed, with their eyes looking forward, their mouths closed. The heads were cast using a lost wax process which allows a sculptor to create a one-off metal cast. Basically, a clay core would be covered with a thick layer of wax that would then be sculpted. A clay shell would be created over the wax and heated. The wax would melt out and bronze would be poured in its place. When these stunning works came to European attention in the early 20th century, the initial response of some scholars was that they simply couldn't be African; there had to be some Greek influence. Thankfully, the museum world is past that kind of blatant racism. But non-Western art is still viewed through a deeply embedded Eurocentric lens. The MFAH press release stated, "These sculptures have been compared to the finest portraits of the classical ancient world of Greece and Rome," and MFAH director Peter Marzio is quoted as saying, "Remarkably, the Ife people were creating these sculptures before the European Renaissance began." For such an important show, the installation at the MFAH is lackluster. All of the pieces are stuck in one big, sterile white room — it not only feels like a crowd, it is crowded. This is a wonderful show and a coup for the museum. I just wish it got a little more of the royal treatment. Through January 9, 2011. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. – KK
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