Capsule Art Reviews: "Bridge 11: Lia Cook," "CTRL group two," "How I Will Die," "Members," "Pressing News," "Prints," "reverse of volume RG"
"Bridge 11: Lia Cook" There is a great illusion at work in Lia Cook's show at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Her massive, black-and-white photographs of human faces — children gazing calmly at the camera, or extreme close-ups of lips and noses — are not photographs at all. Rather, they're comprised of intricately woven cotton that, when viewed from afar, takes on a recognizable image. The oft-treaded pointillist technique is reinvigorated in Cook's striking, large-scale, intricate, fiber art works, based on photographs that she's taken or pulled from her childhood. To create them, she uses a digital Jacquard loom. Viewing from a distance, the mostly black-and-white images become clear. But up close, when you're nose-to-nose with the subjects, it's pixelated gibberish. The museum gives viewers plenty of space to view the large-scale works, and they're best seen as far away as possible. In fact, as you wander throughout the space and glance back at works you've already seen, they become more defined and have added depth. Cook has certainly created a memorable experience for museum-goers; if only the images themselves held up as well. Sure, she has made some interesting choices — a pair of blurry photos of two kids is quite alluring, as your mind works in vain to pull them into focus, and her cropped images, showing just parts of the face, are dramatic. But many of the images aren't all that remarkable, and a science-inspired series that plays with colored thread is also a bit baffling. Through May 13. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. — MD
"CTRL group two" Collage photography is having a bit of a moment right now in Houston, thanks to a major exhibition up at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston called "Utopia/Dystopia." For a much smaller show that still manages to cover a lot of ground, there's also "CTRL group two" at Bryan Miller Gallery, which displays an impressive variety among its seven artists. Among them, Javier Piñon's works stands out the most. It's no coincidence that one of his three collages (The Pact) is the first you see upon entering the gallery. It is a dense nature scene that contains its own mythology. A pale, naked woman is stretched out over rocks, a dagger in her hand, while a dead rabbit lies beside her. A fox stumbles across the scene, as a skull floats in a nearby river. It's oddly compelling, and will leave you puzzling over what it all means. Heimir Björgúlfsson also works with nature themes, juxtaposing unlikely elements in conventional scenery shots. In This ain't the first rodeo, a snowy, tree-lined slope is overlaid with out-of-proportion planks of weathered wood and a patch of rocks. His nature shots don't seem so natural after all. All the works display a degree of intimacy, though none more so than Matthew Stone's — in a more literal sense of the word. His Polymorphic Love Diagram Unfolds features sculptural photo-collages of intertwined bodies on wood, which bends and contorts like the bodies do. The prints look like classical paintings, with the naked men and women warmly yet sharply lit against black backgrounds. They are quite beautiful. Through May 19. 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — MD
"How I Will Die" In Kristy Peet's series of clinical-looking photographs, all sharply lit and crystal clear, she is confronting her hypochondria, as she puts it, though it more closely seems to be her fears of mortality. In one photograph, she's lying stretched out on a gurney, a white blanket stretched over all her body except for her feet, which are sticking out towards you with tags hanging from one of the big toes. In another, she's wrapped almost entirely in gauze bandage, her face a white, blank mask. Other images deal with biohazards, amputation, skin cancer and obesity, primarily with the artist as the subject. Peet's playing, it's make-believe, but there's some aspect of truth to it all — we all go somehow. It's such a personal subject, yet the photos seem scrubbed clean of any messy emotions. The most evocative of all, in this sense, is the gauze portrait, The most common type of bandage is the gauze bandage. Covered in gauze, Peet has been consumed by her fears to the point where she is indistinguishable. Through May 31. Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD
"Members" Britt Ragsdale works with bodies, though his photographs don't set a scene so much as capture the angles, forms, shapes and scale of the human body. There are images of outstretched hands, baby's feet, a bald head, knobby knees and, to be honest, some body parts that aren't so easily identifiable. They're only parts — photographed against a black background, they don't even look like they belong to a body at all. There's a classic quality to them, the skin as luminous as anything you'd find in a Caravaggio painting. Most of the photos were printed on a small scale — six by six inches, or 12 by 12. I left wishing Ragsdale had gone bigger. Sure, you can fit more photos in the space when they're smaller, but these photos are larger than life, and should be displayed that way. In fact, the two largest prints — Members Study 1.1 and Members Study 2.1, which feature legs and bodies stacked on top of each other — were the most captivating. They commanded your attention. Through May 31. Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, 713-582-1198. — MD
"Pressing News" Brad Tucker has made a name for himself as a maker of playful, idiosyncratic art. That's pretty much what you get, too, in a new show of the Austin artist's work at Inman Gallery. "Pressing News," Tucker's fifth show at the venue, features a combination of site-specific work, video and music installation, and prints. The eye-catching installation Bagdad Bass Club is the main meat of the show. It features a full range of media — multiple record players, DVD players, speakers and a TV playing VHS videos of Tucker's friends and children playing musical instruments. Surrounding the machines are handmade items of felt, rubber, foam and painted wood that resemble the looped bands of VHS tapes and, in one case, just tape. There's a strong DIY element to these crudely constructed items, the casualness of the material and its construction another marker of the artist. The bright, youthful colors of the piece contrast with the nostalgic vibe it gives off. Along the walls of this playroom hang rarely exhibited prints by the artist. The series of abstract works are made with hand-cut rubber stamps and ink pressed into stretched canvas. Lines are the subject here — crisscrossed, squiggly, latticed, diagonal, straight lines of all colors. All these stamped lines are a bit off-kilter, as if none of the pieces were premeditated or planned out. The works are definitely the hand of Tucker, embodying his playful, laid-back style, but they just didn't do it for me. It all seemed a little too half-assed — the lack of craftsmanship in the installation, where pieces of foam were laid about not seeming to serve any purpose or representation; the unevenness of the prints; the incongruity of it all. But I did enjoy the way Tucker plays with space and perception. The low, sprawling feel of Bagdad Bass Club, with the TV, speakers and record players just lying on the floor, seems to be asking you to come down to its level. Through May 19. Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD
"Prints" Every five years, Hiram Butler Gallery breaks out its all-star prints from hiding. The current iteration of that concept, simply called "Prints," reads like a Who's Who of mid-century print artists: there's Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra and Cy Twombly, to name some of the 11 artists on display. With such big names, you'd expect some powerhouse pieces, and the show certainly delivers. The selections range from old to new, mostly black-and-white works, with the rare splash of color thrown into the mix. The latter definitely helps Rauschenberg's vivid Kill Devil Hill stand out. Another standout is an untitled print by Rauschenberg contemporary Twombly. Notably, Twombly made the lithograph and then added scrawls of graphite by hand, for a moody, messy and highly emotional piece. Prints by renowned sculptor Fred Sandback also make the cut, his minimalist yellow and black lines still attempting the same sharp angles and geometric planes as his famous yarn sculptures. Agnes Martin is another artist who works in minimal lines, though hers are more orderly and borrow from a grid, going up or across, following the rules of its specific logic. Amid all those lines, the organic curves of Terry Winters's Section and Kelly's Melon Leaf, fittingly paired next to each other, are welcome. There's plenty of Serra to see in Houston right now, thanks to a current retrospective up at the Menil, though Hiram Butler adds one more piece to the mix. Weight IV is a rich, black etching that's dramatically placed right next to the glaring sunlight of the gallery's windows. Unfortunately, when framed and covered by Plexiglas, the black drawing becomes a mirror, the texture and richness of the black difficult to see past your own reflection. Through May 19. Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom St., 713-863-7097. — MD
"reverse of volume RG" Yasuaki Onishi's latest installation at Rice Gallery is made out of just plastic and black hot glue, and yet it manages to take on multiple properties depending on your perspective. As you walk around the site-specific piece, it resembles a forest, the thin black glue like sparse dead trees on top of a mountainous terrain. Staring at it straight on, it looks like an otherworldly, alien creature, like an inverted jellyfish with long black tentacles. Venturing directly under the plastic, you're walking through a cave that's had all the color drained from it, save for hundreds of black splotches. Most of all, though, Onishi's new piece is unlike anything you can see or put a name to. There is a ghostly aura about the plastic as it stretches unevenly from one end of the gallery to the other, attached to the ceiling by strings of black hot glue. It's as if the plastic is propped over some misshapen form that you cannot see. These materials follow their own logic — the glue is splattered in a happenstance fashion, giving dimension to the cavernous plastic shape — which seems to be dictated by whatever is under it. As the title implies, the piece is playing with emptiness, filling the void above you and leaving the gallery's floor and walls untouched. One of the most remarkable things about this installation is how delicate it is. It seems like a slight cough would send the whole thing floating down on top of you. Even the gallery's air conditioning disturbs the structure ever so slightly, making it undulate ever so slightly. But, against all odds, it remains intact. It's a remarkable sight to behold at any angle. Through June 24. Rice Gallery, 6100 Main, 713-348-6069. — MD
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