Capsule Art Reviews: "Body in Fragments", "Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil", "Martin Zet: Necessity", "Recent Accessions in Design", "Your Bright Future: Twelve Contemporary Artists from Korea"
"Body in Fragments" The Menil is always great at creating little mini exhibits from its vast collection, grouping together and juxtaposing modern and contemporary works with primitive art. "Body in Fragments" is no exception. The title says it all — every piece on display contains an element of body fragmentation, what curatorial assistant Mary Lambrakos explains can mean many things in art, from metaphors for identity to the limitations of the body to the rise of industry and technology. Alongside African, Egyptian and Roman sculpture, there are works by René Magritte, Roy Lichtenstein and Yves Klein that employ fragmentation in many forms, such as Magritte's The Eternally Obvious, a vertical "performance" of five paintings depicting a female nude in pieces, and James Rosenquist's Promenade of Merce Cunningham, an image-within-an-image of black-and-white shoes against a colorful, ambiguous body part. There are playful pieces, such as Robert Gober's Untitled, a plaster sink basin occupied by creepy, hairy, beeswax "legs" wearing sandals with pull-tab buckles, and more menacing ones like Nancy Grossman's Blind Masked Head, which looks just like it sounds, a head form with a black leather bondage mask and metal spike sticking out the top. The inclusion of Michelangelo Pistoletto's Division and Multiplication of the Mirror is a nice touch. The double mirrors force us to see ourselves in fragments, investing viewers deeper into the works on display. Through February 28. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
"Cy Twombly: Treatise on the Veil" This rarely exhibited painting by Cy Twombly is accompanied by several works from the artist's private collection that "document," in a sense, the piece's creation. Treatise on the Veil comes from Twombly's "gray-ground" period (1966-1971) and very much resembles a huge chalkboard with a mysterious musical composition drawn across its lower half. The work was inspired by Pierre Henry's musique concrète composition The Veil of Orpheus, and it represents the moment in the myth when Orpheus, in an attempt to rescue his dead wife Eurydice from the underworld, breaks the rules of the gods and looks back at his wife, thus losing her forever — one of the most heartbreaking scenes in literature. That musical moment in Henry's composition is rendered as the sound of fabric tearing. Twombly, in effect, attempts to represent that sound in his own invented musical script. The piece is powerful in its size (nine feet by 32 feet) and simplicity. It's truly operatic. But the additional works on display don't necessarily support or detract from the major work. Twombly's always best when he goes big. We don't need to see the rehearsals. Just give us the performance. Through February 14. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
"Martin Zet: Necessity" Looking at the wry, eclectic work of Czech artist Martin Zet, it's hard to imagine him as a product of the Socialist Realist art academy, but he is. Zet was 30, four years out of art school, at the time of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and that became a turning point for his work. "Martin Zet: Necessity" at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art presents a survey of his work. Zet's art is restrained — nothing is overproduced. The artist has a make-do esthetic. He uses a lot of found objects, but he's more influenced by the privations of communism than Rauschenberg's combines. A corroded flashlight, a broken glass coffeepot, a disembodied television tube, a wooden hanger and a deflated soccer ball are among the objects arranged on a couple grubby folding tables. They're from the series Free Martin Zet, and each object is etched or marked with the phrase. The impetus behind the project was Zet's brief arrest and re-arrest on visa technicalities, which took place while he was trying to attend an art symposium in Macedonia in 2000. Zet turned the incident into an absurd ongoing crusade to free the actually unimprisoned artist, emblazoning the slogan on a variety of objects and staging "protests." In a video of a protest/performance, cars fly by as a pitiful handful of people stand behind barricades and chant "Free Martin Zet" at the artist's behest. Walking past the tables of crap, I turned the corner and saw a granite bust of an attractive, broad-faced Slavic woman. It's the kind of thing a Socialist Realist would title "Portrait of a Factory Worker," and it's also the kind of work Zet learned to make at his art academy. Maybe he even made it. "Free Martin Zet" is inscribed across her forehead. Free him from his artistic past. Through February 21. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. — KK
"Recent Accessions in Design" If I ever win the lottery, I'm hiring Cindi Strauss, the MFAH's curator of all that is great design, as my personal shopper. This show has some incredible stuff, and the chairs are particularly wonderful. There's a classic 1934 design, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig Zag Chair, made from just four simple panels of wood. Also on view is Shiro Kuramata's 1976 glass armchair, whose six glass panels provide an elegant and deceptively simple counterpart to the worn wood of Rietveld's Zig Zag. Meanwhile, Joris Laarman's 2008 burnished black-resin Bone Rocker is supported by an amazingly smooth skeleton-like structure. All of a piece, it grows together so beautifully and organically that the museum's "do not touch" policy is hard to obey. Through February 21. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Your Bright Future: Twelve Contemporary Artists from Korea" This is a masterfully curated show now running at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Politics and culture are strong themes in the show, and Korea's history in the 20th century was pretty dire. The country was brutally occupied by the Japanese for 40 years. They turned Korean women into "comfort women," sex slaves for the Japanese army, along with trying to systematically destroy Korean culture. Korea emerged from the war divided and impoverished, then suffered through the Korean War and two military coups. It first had civilian rule in 1992. A rich sense of irony and a dark sense of humor are coping mechanisms sometimes developed by people who live under oppressive or chaotic political circumstances. Those traits are out in force in "Your Bright Future." The title itself sounds like a cruel piece of propaganda, and it's taken from the title of a 2002/2006 work by Bahc Yiso. Walk into Bahc's installation, and the light is blinding. Makeshift wooden stands present a bank of reflector lamps burning what appear to be mercury vapor bulbs, i.e., streetlight lamps. Aimed at the opposite wall, they cast a brilliant but unkind light. There is a strange, nostril-dilating smell to the bulbs, and their brilliance is headache-inducing. When you are walking in front of them to stand in their blinding glare, Your Bright Future is an intensely uncomfortable experience. "Your future" feels like a Gitmo interrogation room. Another standout is Do Ho Suh's epic work Fallen Star 1/5 (2008-9). For the approximately 11-foot-high-by-25-foot-long sculpture, the artist obsessively re-created, at one-fifth scale, the Providence, Rhode Island, apartment building he lived in as a student. The dollhouse-like structure is cut in half and split open so you can see all the little rooms of the various tenants. It is amazing. There are dozens more great works in the show. Go see it. Through February 14. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — KK
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