Capsule Art Reviews: "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know," "Celestial," "Late Surrealism," "No Paint," "Playback," "Unwoven Light," "Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)"
"Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" In our time, there may be no art form more divisive than street art. For decades, the public has debated the merits of the genre — from the criminality of the act to the skill and creativity involved. The Station Museum of Contemporary Art enters this debate with "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" — a massive show featuring 21 artists known for their work across Houston doing their thing right on the museum's walls. It's a busy exhibit, from the big wall pieces by Ack! and Eyesore to a whole room devoted to impressive portraits by Lee Washington. Given the number of artists, there are a variety of topics, too, including a powerful cityscape by Wiley Robertson and Bryan Cope across the street on the gas station; Vizie's overpowering memorial graffiti artist NEKST; the mysticism of Angel Quesada's Aura Rising; and overtly politically charged works by Anat Ronen, Deck WGF, Michael C. Rodriguez and Empire I.N.S. that touch on drone warfare, war mentality and civil liberty. Despite the open title, the Station Museum is pretty firm on where it stands. The introduction to the show observes that the work is "street art that has become fine art," an "important new contribution to contemporary art in Houston." This is never more true than in the work of Daniel Anguilu. The graffiti artist has tagged much of Midtown, but rather than be derided, he is celebrated by none other than the city itself; recently, the artist was proudly outed by Metro as being none other than a Metro employee. Here, half of the artist's contribution is actually leftovers from the museum's last big show. He's expanded on it for a work that stretches nearly around the whole room with its colorful abstract, Aztec-esque design, which prompted one gallery-goer to exclaim, "I want to live in here!" on a recent visit. While Anguilu is a celebrated public figure, some of his colleagues prefer anonymity. This is evident from a video by KC Ortiz of graffiti artists in action. Most faces are blurred or obscured — a reminder that there can be consequences for this form of expression. Whether you agree that it's fine art or not, one thing is for certain — street art is fleeting. Given their disposable nature, these murals are pure expression — refreshingly done for the sake of it, and not for a potential sale. Whereas most public graffiti art pieces can be covered up at any time, these at least have an expiration date — the show is up until August 25, at which point the walls will be painted over and revert to white. Through August 25. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. —MD
"Celestial" A new show at McClain Gallery tackles the subject of outer space, but don't expect on-the-nose pieces that reference the planets or extraterrestrials. "Celestial" features only eight works — considerably fewer than you'd expect from a show at the gallery — but it's not short on content. There's plenty to take in thanks to the immense and engaging works by contemporary greats. The show starts off appropriately with a strange assemblage by Robert Rauschenberg titled Shuttle Buttle/ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works). Onto reflective steel, the artist paints and transfers the double image of a space shuttle, as well as places a found wheelbarrow. It's blastoff. You go from one massive piece to the next with James Rosenquist's centerpiece Television or the Cat's Cradle Supports Electronic Picture, which takes up the main wall all on its own. The 20-foot-wide horizontal canvas depicts a dark sky filled with stars, purple flowers, a splintered face and a multicolored lattice pattern. It's a dynamic piece, full of energy and life, however surreal. From there, the show consists primarily of reflective sculptural objects that play with light, color and space. There's Stephen Dean's "Double Ladder," a pretty ladder made out of dichroic glass and aluminum that looks like a prism. Larry Bell's glass works aren't so lighthearted. A gray cube and a dark shadow box are small and contained but play with your sense of space. Look at the cube from one angle and you see yourself looking back at you; look at it from another and you see nothing, just the gray cube. There's a jarring jolt of color with Anish Kapoor's untitled work, which creates a vortex out of a stocking. The blood-red color helps give an eerie vibe to an already eerie concept. These works and others in "Celestial" aren't in-your-face. Rather, they encourage you to let your imagination run wild as you contemplate the unknown, whether you're taking in the disjointed imagery of Rauschenberg and Rosenquist or getting lost in the simple, elegant glasswork of Bell. Through July 3. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. —MD
"Late Surrealism" Mark Rothko. Jackson Pollock. They're not the usual suspects you'd associate with Surrealism, but they're some of the biggest names in The Menil Collection's current show "Late Surrealism." Though they're known for their groundbreaking abstract work, as the Menil exhibition shows, pigeonholing artists can be tricky business. And during the 1930s and '40s, artists working in America were influenced by surrealists as the art capital shifted from Paris to New York. Curator Michelle White has pulled together 14 artists and 26 pieces from the museum's holdings for the compact show. There are paintings as well as collages, assemblages, works on paper and sculptures created during for the most part the '30s and '40s on display. All together, the works demonstrate what White describes as a "push-pull" between Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism. It's in the mysterious figures in one of Pollock's paintings — not one of his trademark splatter jobs, but one depicting animal-like monsters that are slightly nightmarish. Unnamed, this lack of any clue further adds to its mystery. This push-pull is also evident in Rothko's Red Abstract, a blood-red dreamscape composed of figures that resemble birds and a spade. Other works are strange and slightly goofy. Two Max Ernst sculptures — standing bronze pieces — both feature faces. In one, La plus belle (The Most Beautiful One), the eyes are slightly lopsided above a wide grin. In the other, Asperges de la lune (Lunar Asparagus), the face seems to be splintered — the eyes on one pole, the mouth on the other. Joan Miró's Oeuf (galant ovale) also depicts a face — this one curiously, humorously unhappy — on a ceramic piece made convincingly to look like a rock. There's more to admire — pieces that primarily explore the human body in ink and charcoal that are all experimental in form — in what's an eye-opening, fascinating show on a fascinating period. Through August 25. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — MD
"No Paint" The premise of Gallery Sonja Roesch's new exhibition is simple enough: artists who make painterly objects without using any paint. But the results are much more diverse and creative than you could imagine. The six artists in "No Paint" use materials ranging from Plexiglas and steel to lasers and even river sediments. August Muth brings the lasers in his series of holographic squares. They might remind you of holograms by another light artist — James Turrell — and in fact, the New Mexico artist has been making Turrell's holograms since 1994. For his own work, Muth makes visual references to the solar system — Mars and the sun specifically — in several small, intimate pieces. They're two brilliant, beautiful subjects that would be difficult to convey in any medium but that come through in his dazzling holograms. Texas artist Hills Snyder looks to a more basic object for inspiration — the ladder — in Ambassador. Despite the subject matter's ordinariness, this is no run-of-the-mill ladder; composed of a sky-blue, reflective acrylic sheet over birch, it makes for a shiny art object that's comically dysfunctional and out of place, yet pleasing to look at. The juxtaposition of resin and wood creates an intriguing combination in German artist Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer's pieces. In a largely monochromatic show, these stand out for their clean lines of color, like a neater Rothko, made by submerging pigment into resin. They're very calculated, intentional works in everything from the colors used to the space between the lines of resin and wood. German artist Mario Reis, on the other hand, takes a much more improvisational approach in his practice. His two works are each made up of nine canvases and displayed dramatically in tandem against the back wall. One is a dusty reddish brown, the other a dark forest green. The differences in color are owed to their origins — one is composed of sediment captured from a river in Boys Ranch, Texas, the other a river in Castile Rock, British Columbia. What makes for the differences in color, though, and why these two rivers? What significance do they hold for the artist? The pieces evoke many questions, which makes them so engaging. Not all the works in the show are as captivating. German artist Regine Schumann's minimal Plexiglas half-circles are awkwardly shaped and don't do much on the wall. Aldo Chaparro's Steel — a crumbled piece of steel — may also be too minimalist for some. But I liked the physicality of the work, which the Peru-born, Mexico City-based artist constructed by crumbling the material with his body. The piece also constantly changes depending on how you look at it, reflecting color and light off its mangled surface. Overall, by pulling together artists from various parts of the globe working in completely different mediums and art-historical conversations, "No Paint" makes good on its promise to expand the definition of paint, while challenging your expectations of what painting can be. Not bad for a modest group exhibit. Through June 29. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5454. —MD
"Playback" When you first walk into Fresh Arts and survey the TV screens scattered around the darkened gallery, a quick glance might give you the impression that the screens are stuck on frames of couples embracing or kissing. But on closer inspection, it steadily becomes apparent that these are not frames but actors holding these poses, in all their awkward glory. This ingenious concept is part of Britt Ragsdale's "Duets" series. The Houston artist has her video work up at Fresh Arts in "Playback," a show curated by Paul Middendorf of galleryHOMELAND. In four screens, Ragsdale pulls inspiration from familiar scenes in classic films like An Affair to Remember and Giant — couples gazing longingly into each others' eyes, about to kiss, in a dramatic embrace. The videos are even in black and white, some softened to give them that dated, classic look. Ragsdale uses real couples to copy these poses — fleeting moments that the artist has stretched out into six, seven, eight, even 12 minutes. What's meant to be a romantic gesture soon becomes less than intimate, even pained, due to what Ragsdale describes as "intense scrutiny." This scrutiny reveals more about human relationships than any film trope can. During the extended shots, one couple rocks slightly back and forth, while another starts to pull slightly away. A man jokingly puckers his lips, while another swallows hard, his Adam's apple prominent. At the end of one video, a woman cracks her knuckles, as if relieved that the task at hand is over. Hand-holding is sweet and all, but everyone has his limits. Ragsdale scrutinizes another film trope in her "Run-Through" series. In The Chase, an actress runs towards the camera — so close you can see her smudged eye makeup — gasps dramatically, then calmly walks back to her starting point, only to do it all over again. It goes on like that for 20 minutes. The repetition makes the act funny, bizarre and ultimately meaningless, emphasizing how generic this familiar scene is. It's like a horror movie supercut, but more effective. There is a third video, called Don't Talk to Strangers — a two-and-a-half-minute piece that pulls from random archives with brief shots of things like couples dancing, a cat playing with a string and women getting their hair done. Though significantly busier than the others, it's not as engaging. It's worth it to invest your time in the others. You'll never look at classic films the same way again. Through July 12. 2101 Winter, 713-868-1839. —MD
"Unwoven Light" Soo Sunny Park's installation at Rice Gallery is unapologetically pretty. It's a glistening, iridescent canopy of shimmering pinks, purples, blues, greens and yellows that resemble anything from a fish's scales to a spider's web wet with raindrops. Despite the apt comparisons, this creation is anything but organic. "Unwoven Light" is composed entirely of chain-link fence and coated Plexiglas that Park has exhaustingly shaped and welded together to create a network of abstract, bulbous shapes suspended from the ceiling. In fact, it took the artist and her assistants two weeks to make just one distinct unit — specifically, seven hours of welding to brace the fencing, 100 hours of tying the wire that holds each Plexiglas piece in place, and still more time cutting the Plexiglas shapes to fit into the chain-link cells. In all, there are 37 such units — 17 newly created for the installation and 20 recycled from a past work — that create patches of light throughout the gallery from floor to ceiling. However laborious its creation, "Unwoven Light" seems effortless, with light doing most of the work. Every step brings you a new combination of colors that reflect off the Plexiglas and bleed onto the walls and even the floor. There's no set path to follow, either, giving you the freedom to wander underneath and around the units in your own trance. There can be much to consider as you explore the work — about the properties of light and color, imposed boundaries and our perception of space — but it's also a pleasant experience that is, simply, joyful. Through August 30. 6100 Main, 713-348-6169. — MD
"Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)" In the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement, mizugiwa means the point where the water and plant meet. In English, that's better known as the shore or bank, but it doesn't seem nearly as poetic. In "Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)" at Catherine Couturier Gallery, Houston artist Libbie J. Masterson explores this concept through a series of photographs taken all over the world — though nowhere particularly distinguishable (these could be well-known bodies of water or random springs — it doesn't matter). This intersection has been an interest of Masterson's for years, before she even knew there was such a word for it, and it's easy to see why it has caught her eye. Her photographs are dramatic landscapes that have washed out most color in favor of blue tints and black-and-white contrasts that emphasize this dynamic. In the closely cropped Early Canal (3FJ5140), for instance, the vegetation is blacked out — trees and plant life are silhouettes against the white sky and the subtle ripples of the water. Still others favor a tint that turns everything, even the plant life, blue, united in the color. In Camargue (3FJ5072), for instance, both water and land exist in similar hues of bluish-green — they're on the same wavelength. Though it's the focus of her photographs, the water isn't always obvious and doesn't always seem to be the main subject. In Road St. Remy (3FJ4943), it's hidden and needs to be found among the dominant, massive trees and lush bushes. But it's always there, whether stretching gloriously across multiple prints, as in Loire River Triptych, or traveling endlessly towards the back of the frame, as in Chenonceau Canal, lit beautifully the whole way. Through August 31. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. —MD
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