Capsule Art Reviews: "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know," "Celestial," "Late Surrealism," "The Ornamental Plumb Bob"
"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
"The Ornamental Plumb Bob" A plumb bob isn't something you'd usually see on display to admire. The typically acorn-shaped weight is used behind the scenes, by the likes of carpenters, architects and artists, to note the verticality of a surface. It's rarely seen as a work of art in and of itself. Gary Schott begs to differ, though. The San Antonio metalsmith has a new series on display in the solo show "The Ornamental Plumb Bob" at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft that asks you to admire the plumb bob for its aesthetic contributions. More than a dozen plumb-bob weights line the center's artist hall, suspended from the walls in between the artist studios. Historically, these weights have taken the form of anything from fruits and vegetables to nautical designs and the standard acorn. Schott favors the last, with weights that look like ice cream cones. They're painted bold colors and hang from decorative plaques of varying shapes, sizes and colors, like ornaments or earrings. Though they all serve the same purpose in the end, each one is unique. The cords the plumb bobs hang from also vary. Three weights in a row may hang at the same length, satisfyingly in sync, while others hang at different lengths, helping to highlight their differences. There's a rhythm and flow to the show, even if it's disrupted by the occasional door. The HCCC has a habit of exploring the functional versus the decorative purposes of items, and that doesn't get old. These tools are made with such precision and care, only to be used to make something else. But by giving plumb bobs their day in the sun, this exhibit lets you explore their simple beauty. Through July 27. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. —MD
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