Capsule Art Reviews: "Calaveras Mexicanas: The Art and Influence of Jose Guadalupe Posada," "Funnel Tunnel," "Gary Komarin: The Bowman Sixpence Has Got to Have Soul," "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "MOVING/STILL: Recent Photo

"Calaveras Mexicanas: The Art and Influence of Jose Guadalupe Posada" The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, commemorates the 100th anniversary of Posada's death with an exhibition titled "Calavaveras Mexicanas: The Art and Influence of Jose Guadalupe Posada." The exhibit decorates the white walls between the lower-level staircase of MFAH's Caroline Wiess Law building. It is separated into three sections, looking to the viewer like an unfolded pamphlet. In the center are Posada's pieces, which include La Calavera Catrina, his "most iconic calaveras" and others, such as La Calavera Amorosa (The Skeleton of Love). Drawn in 1907, it was printed in a Mexican newspaper in 1911 as the principal image for a cartoon depicting the execution of two Guatemalan criminals who assassinated General Manuel Barillas. Posada's El doctor improvisado (The Improvised Doctor), hanging in the very center of the exhibit, tells a different story, albeit with the same outcome: a traveling doctor who comes across death. As a gesture of friendliness, the doctor offers the bony burier his coat; in return, Death gives the doctor the ability to know whether his patients will live or die. In the end, however, it's the doctor who dies. The expiration of both the murderers, who took life, and the doctor, expected to sustain life, makes clear that death is not a respecter of persons. It falls on the just and the unjust. The left and right sections of this wall "pamphlet" display the artists influenced by Posada's works. To Mexican-American artist Luis Jimenez, death is a dance. His Baile con la Talaca (Dance with Death) (1984) lithograph shows him in a lusty tango with La Catrina, while Self-Portrait (1996) shows the artist decomposing. That Self-Portrait was created after Baile is probably a coincidence, but it does help to illustrate the inevitable conclusion to being in death's clutches. Baile shows Jimenez and Lady Death as half-human and half-skeleton. They embrace each other, with Jimenez's hand grazing her ribs while her bony fingers clasp his head. Jimenez is also half-skeleton in the latter lithograph. He is not a completed calavera, but the process is under way, as his sagging, pockmarked flesh reveals bone underneath. Jimenez's eyes and lips are uncovered, revealing hollow eye sockets and an eerie grin. The image takes up the frame, forcing viewers to come close — and become entangled in death's permanent embrace. Posada's influence reached Texas, too. Jerry Bywaters, an American artist and native Texan, created a lithograph painting of a graveyard in Terlingua. This place, Mexican Graveyard-Terlingua, transforms every year during Dia de los Muertos, when residents of the city come to pay tribute to the dead. Through December 15. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — AO

"Funnel Tunnel" Clunky, streaked wood and wiry metal are the last things one would consider using to celebrate Art League Houston and the colorful Montrose neighborhood that surrounds it. Then again, talent is as talent does, and bare-bones as they may be, Patrick Renner's pieces are feats of size and color. Bounded Operator (2012) is a wall of windows glued together and filled with sand, rock and gravel, mingled with pieces of wood splashed in tie-dye, exchanging its windowpane aesthetic for a swirling metal one. The rainbow brightness of Wooddauber (2012) is one of many rainbow-colored chunks of wood from Renner's "Vestigial Structures" show exhibited last year at Avis Frank Gallery. The two pieces are combined to create "Funnel Tunnel," a metal-on-wood masterpiece so big that Art League publicly called on volunteers to help paint the wooden strips in the weeks before its opening. Before then, Renner could be seen blowtorching metal pieces together to create a wiry foundation for the wooden strips to attach to. It would, however, be inaccurate to describe "Funnel Tunnel" as skeletal. While other Renner pieces may come off as hollow, the wood and metal in "Funnel Tunnel" work together to create an artwork representative of the inclusive nature of the area around it. Those wooden strips? Painted in the hues of the rainbow, they very accurately represent the diverse people, businesses and culture of Montrose. The metal? Permanently melded together to hold the rainbow strips of wood, it represents the collectivity of this community. These materials create a 180-foot civic art sculpture seen whirling down the center of Montrose Boulevard. "Funnel Tunnel" will be on display in front of Art League Houston for the next nine months. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

"Gary Komarin: The Bowman Sixpence Has Got to Have Soul" The first thing you notice about "Gary Komarin: The Bowman Sixpence Has Got to Have Soul," showing at Gremillion Fine Art & Co., is the absence of theme. There is no identifiable rhyme or reason to any of the paintings; each oil on canvas tells its own little story. Even the series of birthday cakes hanging between the canvases seem disconnected, random. However, a little bit of prodding reveals that the randomness is the theme. "The Bowman Sixpence" is an exhibit created by, of course, Gary Komarin, a New York artist who resides in Connecticut. Komarin graduated from University at Albany, State University of New York, followed by an MFA from Boston University. His curriculum vitae boasts more than 100 solo and group exhibitions in places from Houston to Zurich. With all the accolades Komarin has won, it's understandable that his current exhibition is so carefree; like a retired teacher who comes back to substitute when the mood strikes, Komarin can now paint what he wants, when he wants. Unburdened by the looming deadline of negative or positive reviews, he creates with childlike abandon, and so "The Bowman Sixpence" is the manifestation of this self-actualized freedom: a collection of cute, candy-colored abstract paintings on canvas and on paper. The colors of many of the pieces bowl you over as well. Ipso Facto in Orange with Black is a mixed-media of bright, bright orange with pockets of white blobs and black lines — a suitable Halloween decoration to go in a quirky billionaire's mansion. The Egyptian Hat Trick is another mixed-media on canvas. An assortment of blue, orange, purple and pink doodles saves a pretty dull white-and-gray background, like a shower of multicolored sprinkles livening up a plain sheet cake. Komarin further sweetens the exhibition with images of lovely layer cakes hanging alternately between the abstract paintings. This is one the kids can appreciate: These decadent treats are outlined in hot reds and pinks, inducing drools and pleas like "Can we get some when we get home...please?" Untitled (Green Cake on Pale Pink), a stacked confection outlined in lime green, is sure to be a mouthwatering crowd-pleaser. Through October 11. 2501 Sunset Blvd., 713-522-2701. — AO

"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," donated to the museum by Wilson after her death, is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

"MOVING/STILL: Recent Photography by Texas Artists" This exhibit explores the complicated relationship human beings have with nature through the viewfinders of 12 photographers. To these artists, dealing with nature means accepting its unpredictability. The exhibition is showing at both FotoFest and the Houston Center for Photography. Gnashing of Teeth is both ugly and beautiful. First, all of Badger's photographs are inkjet prints, matte alternatives to the glossies strewn throughout the gallery. This works well with the subject of the photograph, who splashes around in muddy waters. Black mud covers her all over, from her black dress to her black hair, but she doesn't appear to be grossed out. In fact, the look on her face is one of pure ecstasy, of giving herself away to a sticky subconscious. Elizabeth Chivas's Figs From Thistles series is titled after a book of poetry by the same name, her grandmother's favorite. The photographs look for beauty among the now barren. Chivas started photographing plant wildlife in spring 2013, just as Texas's cold winter was turning to warm summer — however, after a season of drought, wildflowers were hard to come by; what was left were bunches of dried-out, burned-out grass. Chivas's photos capture the rare flowers that grew despite this distress, whether they were an unexpected gathering of pink, orange and yellow wildflowers (Figs from Thistles no. 1) or a lone pink flower (Figs from Thistles no. 4), surviving in spite of the ruin. Two of Keliy Anderson-Staley's pictures sum up the entire exhibition: The "Round Barn" at Zocalo, Gouldsboro, Maine and Earthways Lodge in Winter. On the left, The "Round Barn" displays a cylindrical home; green grass grows all around. The overgrown, thick grass represents life, as do the other items around the barn: a bike, red doors, a wheelbarrow. Earthways Lodge shows the complete opposite: an abandoned hut that's covered in hay. It's clear no one has tended the little lodge in a long time, since a pile of snow covers the hay. The cold snow represents stasis, or even death. On the other hand, the wildly growing green grass in the former C-Print represents growth and, ultimately, life. Life is fluid; death is static. Where The "Round Barn" is MOVING, in Earthways Lodge, life is STILL. Through October 27. Houston Center for Photography, 1441 W. Alabama, and FotoFest, 1113 Vine. 713-223-5522. — AO

"Retro-spectacle" Wade Wilson Art recently opened "Retro-spectacle," a two-part past-and-present exhibition by Houston-based artist Michael Crowder. The "Retro" is Crowder's retrospective: innocuous glass and crystal mixed-media pieces hanging in the front part of the gallery, followed by the "spectacle," a fabulous three-dimensional installation in back. The two-in-one exhibition is separated by two white walls, drawn open by a dramatic "red velvet" curtain. What Crowder has done, essentially, is transform Wade Wilson Art into two rooms. To the untrained eye, walking into the back of "Mariposa mori" is like walking into a Shakespearean book collection and a Darwinian laboratory at the same time. In fact, Crowder's intention is to frame his pieces in a historical, 19th-century museum setting — hence, the transformation of Wade Wilson Art into a dark, cozy nook. Those deep burgundy curtains reveal a faux bookshelf that's actually wallpaper pasted onto the walls. In the center of the installation and on its walls are a "19th-century collector's cabinet of curiosities," according to reception programs, containing hundreds of glass butterflies. They are par for the course for Crowder, who regularly uses "frail" objects such as chocolate and sugar for his mixed-media artwork. By framing a set of books and butterflies in and among dark burgundy curtains and mahogany cabinets, "Mariposa mori" arouses a mood of intelligence and luxury. The dark color scheme and the enclosed installation also invoke a mood similar to that of the butterflies before flight. It's common knowledge that butterflies spend a portion of time in cocoons before emerging. Likewise, by walking inside of "Mariposa mori," visitors immerse themselves in a cocoon filled with books and butterflies — the latter, it is assumed, meant as inspiration. When they leave, they too are butterflies, only their wings are the intelligence they gleaned while soaking up those books. It's very hard to define what's "Retro" about the pieces outside of the installation; like "Mariposa mori," they are also mixed-media and made up of frail objects. A Sense of History Reprise (Oval Painting) and A Sense of History Reprise 2 (Large Painting) look like porcelain dinnerware, but are actually made from the same pâte de verre used to create the butterflies. Pâte de verre is found on other pieces as well, and the outside also makes use of the burgundy color theme; painting the walls in dark red emphasizes the hanging pieces, which are done in hues of ivory, burgundy or mahogany. The dash connecting "Retro-spectacle" is more than mere decoration, then; it is a line that connects Crowder's past work to his present. Through October 25. 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — AO


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