Capsule Art Reviews: "Ariane Roesch: Simple Machines and Simple Dreams," "CraftTexas 2012," "Dieter Balzer: Objects," "Endless Disharmony and Telltale Ashes," "Endless Disharmony and Telltale Ashes," "Texas Eclectic," "Tony Feher: A Work in Four Parts"
"Ariane Roesch: Simple Machines and Simple Dreams" For the past several years, Houston artist Ariane Roesch's work has been cleverly at the intersection of people and technology, and the multimedia artist continues to explore that dynamic in this well-crafted solo show at Redbud Gallery. Roesch presents three distinct series that play with our innate desires, the physical landscape and mechanization. There's her "picturesque landscapes" — found representations of forests, meadows and lakes that are transformed by Roesch's ink drawings, fabric and thread. In Insert Rhinoceros, for instance, Roesch has interrupted a painting of an idyllic forest scene with the image of a rhinoceros being hoisted in on a harness and pulley system. They're funny collages that through this juxtaposition look preposterous and out of place. The second series is Roesch's "comfort drawings," still-lifes of pillows done in black chalk on white felt. The show's third element is an installation of three soft sculptures — a ladder, an outboard motor and a chair which are not functional at all. The ladder is sewn out of a pink and white vinyl tablecloth; the outboard motor is made out of white rabbit velvet; and the chair is displayed high on a wall, closer to the ceiling than the floor, hopelessly and completely out of reach for any sitter. Indeed, the name of the piece is One Way Ticket (Himmelsfahrtkommando), which translates to "forlorn hope." Each series is strong and engaging on its own, though it's difficult to see how it all comes together cohesively. One thing does seem clear — for any purported simplicity, nothing is as simple as it seems, and dreams can still remain hopelessly out of reach. For all the prettiness in Roesch's feminine pieces, there's something refreshingly deeper and darker, too. Through October 27. 303 East 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"CraftTexas 2012" This juried biennial show at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft purports to feature the best in Texas-made contemporary craft, and the 40 artists featured don't call that into question. Paula Gron is a basket weaver by nature, but uses her skills to concoct a wooden handle with found tree branches protruding creepily and chaotically from it like some alien takeover. For all its creepiness, it's not without a sense of humor — the piece is called My Toothbrush. Danny Kamerath also works in wood; for his compelling Table for Two he crafted two Barbie-size chairs and a table out of a stump of yaupon holly. The stump leans at all angles, pulling apart this quaint little set and making you feel incredibly uneasy in its unevenness. The dining-room table — a domestic constant — is coming apart. George Sacaris's Faux Bois Stumps features "stumps" of aluminum that sprout from the floor and have remnants of severed tree limbs jutting from their sides, but these highly polished pieces don't try too hard to fool you, which I like. They're too polished and shiny, for one, and they come in all sorts of unnatural colors, from rose to an Excel-logo green. In not resembling the stumps it so clearly does try to resemble, the piece makes you think about those differences even more. There's much more to see and like, from Diana Kersey's bonkers Bird Pot earthenware to Steve Hilton's epic wall installation, Tea for ? The latter is a clear winner in the show, even literally (Hilton, along with Gron and Sacaris, won jurors' prizes). It consists of families of teapots constructed out of stoneware. They sprout horizontally from the wall almost organically and resemble gnarls and knobs of wood, which in and of itself is a neat effect. But the teapots also seem to congregate like people do, even possessing distinct physical attributes. The longer you look at them, the more they seem to be reflections of ourselves. Through December 30. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"Dieter Balzer: Objects" While looking at Dieter Balzer's meticulous overlapping stripes and bold checkers, I couldn't help but think of the on-trend fashion equivalent — the mix-matched patterns and loud color blocking that have been everywhere this past summer. And now, so it seems, they've found their way to the walls of Gallery Sonja Roesch, whose current exhibition features the Berlin artist's newest works. From either vantage point, both the fashion and the art are appealing for many of the same reasons — the use of bright, vibrant colors, of blue against green against purple against orange, is cheery and attention-grabbing. Meanwhile, the different patterns are unexpected but have an innate logic and surprising order, even when the bars and squares that make up these sculptures overlap. Balzer, of course, isn't copying some in-vogue style; the Gallery Sonja Roesch favorite has been making reductive art like this for years, filling up the walls and floors here and in Europe with his colorful, linear sculptures. He has an exact system, too, creating his curiously named works (Mesa, Flic Flac, Xeos, Manga) based on a modular system of architecture and color. In this sense, every piece of adhesive foil-covered MDF has a place and a color and relates to other elements of the sculpture in a very specific way, making for works that are balanced despite their seeming disorder. Within all that spontaneity of color and pattern, there is a sense that Dieter is pulling the strings. While fashions may come and go, there is a timelessness to the artist's objects, which elegantly cut through the white space. His clean, bright sculptures can hold up. Through October 27. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD
"Endless Disharmony and Telltale Ashes" Eric Zimmerman's new show at Art Palace is a confounding, skillful, frustrating and intriguing riddle of a conceptual art show that sticks with you for days. The exhibition is just one part of the concept, which also consists of a now-ended show of related works at Dallas's Reading Room called, conversely, "Telltale Ashes and Endless Disharmony," and a Tumblr of image and sound media. The Houston show itself consists primarily of two things — graphite drawings and collages. The graphite drawings are intricate reproductions of disparate objects. There's a bison carcass, a replica of the cover to René Daumal's Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing, the record Dream Baby by Roy Orbison, a reproduction of one of French painter Théodore Géricault's still-lifes, and a hand performing a magic trick with a coin. Where the graphite drawings are exact, even down to the wear on the cover of Mount Analogue, the collages take photographs of landscapes, wood cutters and destroyed houses from old National Geographics and rearrange them into something alien — all jagged edges and messy swirls of greens, browns and whites. They are the ashes, trying to reveal something that has been destroyed. Zimmerman gives us even more clues, including two zines containing text, definitions and images referencing those used in the show. There's still even more to the show to digest, so the question is, do you have the time to devote to this riddle? I'm still knee-deep in and trying to find my way out. Through October 27. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — MD
"Liz Ward: Cryosphere" In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and two companions attempted to travel over the North Pole by hot air balloon. They never made it. In fact, two days after taking off from Norway, they crashed onto Arctic ice, where they faced inevitable death. Their hot air balloon, and what was left of them and their camp, weren't discovered for another 30 years. It's a fascinating, but also horrifying, tale, and one that speaks to the allure of the North Pole at the time — an attraction that cost many men their lives. Liz Ward understands this appeal. The Texas artist is captivated by the North and the histories captured in its ice cores, which provide the subject matter of her new watercolors and silverpoint drawings currently up at Moody Gallery. In light watercolors and silverpoint, Ward depicts the ice cores, which are like the rings in tree trunks, except they record climate conditions over thousands of years via accumulations of snow and ice. Given its age, Arctic ice has unfathomable history and depth, and Ward's watercolors seem chock full of both, especially in her large-scale watercolors. In torrents of gorgeously vivid blues, reds, yellows and more blues, she manages to capture an inherent, raw energy, all the more aided by the subtle sparkle of the mica in her watercolors. In addition to these large-scale works, which the artist calls "glacial ghosts" in a further reference to climate change, Ward has two watercolor pieces positioned directly across from each other in the gallery titled Ice Balloon. They're minutely detailed blue circles that directly reference Andrée's doomed expedition. Even if you didn't know the morbid history, you couldn't look at these icy blue watercolors and not shiver. Through November 21. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
"Texas Eclectic" "Texas Eclectic" is a lighthearted survey of the state's modern art scene, a who's who of local artists working in everything from painting and photography to sculpture and textile. Judy and Scott Nyquist are Art League Houston's "Texas Patrons of the Year," a yearly honor bestowed upon those who support the arts community here that also lets the honorees show off their collection. Among the 35 artists included in the Nyquist show, there are appearances by Joseph Havel, Sharon Engelstein, Bill Davenport, The Art Guys, Jonathan Leach, Sasha Dela, Aaron Parazette and this publication's own Kelly Klaasmeyer. Leach's plexiglass W.Y.S.2. is a focal point, drawing all eyes to its exact lines, while an untitled work by Robin Utterback that's all circles and dripping paint is particularly notable. Gary Sweeney's You're Our Favorite Artist is one of the funniest among several humorous works in the show, using speech bubbles to speak to the oftentimes contradictory nature in supporting the arts by asking for free work. There are also several works that put ordinary objects in a new context, from Dela's books of gossip magazines to Rachel Hecker's giant Green Car Check. Not only are these works the Nyquists chose, which hang in their home, but several of the pieces are gifts or were commissioned just for them. Chuck Ramirez's Elderflower is a crisp photograph of Judy's purse. Sarah is a straightforward photograph of the couple's daughter, made while the artist Amy Blakemore tested out a vintage camera with the Nyquist family as her subjects. Study for Jake by Parazette features experimental designs of the couple's son's name — a font all his own. These works won't mean nearly as much to you as they do to the Nyquists, but to their credit, they still manage to be engaging. Through November 2. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — MD
"Tony Feher: A Work in Four Parts" Tony Feher's exhibition at Blaffer Art Museum is getting a lot of attention right now, and rightfully so, but a much more modest show of the artist's work is also noteworthy. A Work in Four Parts, currently up at Hiram Butler Gallery, is quintessential Feher — the use of ordinary objects to make highly deliberate art — and feels very much like an intimate conversation with the artist. Feher doesn't often name his pieces, but he gives this work multiple identities. A Work in Four Parts refers to four shelves placed at different levels that support glass and plastic objects. Feher sensed a lyrical quality to this arrangement and further named each of the four shelves — Adagio, Allegro, Animato and Appassionato. Borrowing the names of these movements helps inform each shelf. "Adagio" means "at ease," and the shape and progression of the bottles do seem calm and low-key. "Allegro," on the other hand, means "lively," and this shelf is a bit busier and has more variety among the materials. And so on with the other two shelves. You can read these pieces as you would a piece of sheet music. There are even recurring notes or chords, as it were, as the same materials repeat themselves across the four parts. It's easy to forget what you're looking at when you study Feher's song. They're just plastic and glass bottles — junk, really — that are filled with even more junk — feathers, glitter, food coloring, cornstarch, packing peanuts. But Feher manages to make them worth looking at. The red, orange and blue of his dyed water is vibrant. The packing peanuts stick to the side of the glass jar as if in a state of suspended animation. A red ball rests at the top of a bottle, everything perfectly in tune with the rest. Feher gives us clues as to how to read his piece, and in the process we are looking at and considering these materials as if for the very first time. That's some magic. Through November 7. 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD
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