Capsule Art Reviews: "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know," "CTRL + P," "Ideas Are Free," "The Ornamental Plumb Bob," "Playback," "PRINTTX," "Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May"
"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
"CTRL + P" Authorship. Originality. These are some, but of course not nearly all, of the things that usually come to mind when considering art — the conceit of the artist and that his or her unique vision gives meaning and value to the work. Now, get ready to turn all that on its head. In the exhibition "CTRL + P" at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, words like open source and creative commons are more pressing than authorship and originality. The show, curated by Anna Walker, brings together artists who make work based on ideas and designs that are free for the taking, as long as you have the right technology. In this case, it's cutting-edge concepts like computer-aided design (CAD) programs and 3D printers, which, instead of adding ink to paper, build objects line by line out of metal or plastic. Using this 21st-century technology and designs from open-source websites, the artists here have been able to make sculptural and functional objects, often in bulk. There are silver and gold-plated stainless steel rings made by Erin Gardner and Margaret Drinkwater of The Opulent Project, based on existing ring designs from a Google 3D warehouse and made using a 3D printer. There are dozens of porcelain objects piled behind a glass case — some made by hands, others with the help of a CAD software program and then printed by 3D printing marketplace Shapeways — from ceramic artists Bryan Czibesz and Shawn Spangler. There's even a 3D printer on loan from Houston hackerspace TX/RX Labs for demonstration, spitting out orange teapots. The results are rather crude and unremarkable — there are a lot of plain ceramic pieces in odd shapes — if not for their origins. This is a forward-looking show that's more about the idea than the object and treading new ground in what's possible. For all it says about creation, one thing is of note — the works are still carefully attributed. It just goes to show that authorship — and giving attribution to the person behind the piece — still holds value. Through September 8. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. —MD
"Ideas Are Free" Highbrow meets lowbrow. That can be a glib yet effective way of describing the work of Jay Giroux — an artist with a background in skate and street culture who holds an MFA in painting from the University of Houston. The Brooklyn artist's first solo show at Devin Borden Gallery, titled "Ideas Are Free," explores that dynamic as he marries aspects of pop culture with high formalism. Indeed, the first piece you encounter, Skate Stopped Pedestal, is composed of a wooden pedestal topped by aluminum "skatestoppers" — brackets meant to deter skateboarders from skating on curbs or handrails by eliminating a smooth surface. It's as minimal as they come, yet loaded with references. Beyond this sculpture, paintings make up the bulk of the show, and Giroux experiments with acrylic, wax, oil, enamel and color pencil in his colorful, layered works — some of which are just about color. The four squares C, M, Y and K compose a tetraptych that is based on the color model used in printing — cyan, magenta, yellow and key (or black) — and are arranged in a column. Collect all four! Other works aren't as neat. Monster Girls (Wax Atmosphere) and Monster Girls (Neon Lights) are messy, busy paintings that leave hints of what's below the surface — blond girls with sunglasses — as if it's a street advertisement layered in graffiti. Works like Stay Focused and Hard in the Paint follow in this loud street-art aesthetic — spray cans and all. But then you have something completely out of left field like Untitled (Target in Red, Yellow, and Blue) — a bruised, bullied canvas that has literal markings on it — gaping holes and punctures that are surrounded mostly by red, with hints of the title's yellow and blue. It's quite beautiful, in a quiet way. For all the attempts to nail him down, Giroux isn't content to do just one thing. Through August 3. 3917 Main, 713-256-0225. — 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
"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
"PRINTTX" By name alone, the Museum of Printing History may seem like the last place you'd find contemporary work in the print field. But among the permanent displays that chronicle the history of printing can be found impressive works that experiment with the form and subject matter. So it is with "PRINTTX," the first juried exhibition of contemporary Texas artists as part of PRINTHOUSTON 2013, a summer-long event celebrating both traditional and contemporary printmaking in the state. Peter S. Briggs, the Helen DeVitt Jones Curator of Art at the Museum of Texas Tech University, has pulled together 23 works of varying sizes and materials by 20 artists. Some of the more engaging pieces aren't what you'd think of when you consider prints. Ann Johnson's Sky's Nest is a sphere of intaglio and found objects suspended from the ceiling by a string. Inside this enclosed nest is, curiously, a faint, ghost-like image of a girl printed on feathers — it's obvious but at the same time unexpected. Orna Feinstein's The Fan is less mysterious. This sculptural wall piece consists of a blue and black monoprint on a plexi and metal part. The circular spots of color repeat the fan's shape over and over in circles themselves, making it all about the whirring motion of this geometric form. Among the more typical prints, Evan Leigh Rottet's photographic lithograph Trash? is a beautifully saturated piece that depicts a pile of garbage in great sepia tones, implying that these discarded items may still have value. Trash? indeed. Other prints have grander, more political implications. Jesus De La Rosa's lithograph Party Is Over is a bright pink piñata with bullets for ears and a look of what seems to be concern in its piñata eye. The small, bold print definitely catches your attention, but then keeps you as it makes a commentary on the "hidden nature of the US/Mexican war on illegal drugs," says the artist. There are plenty of these subtle details, including the button and shirt tag of Joëlle Verstraeten's cool blue monoprints, in a show that offers plenty to admire. Through September 14. 1324 W. Clay, 713-522-4652. —MD
"Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May" Peace signs and Mount Analogue. These two things have little in common, but to Emily Joyce, they serve the same purpose — as a seemingly endless source of inspiration. In "Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May," now on view at Inman Gallery, the Los Angeles artist creates silk-screen prints that explore variations on abstract geometric shapes. The peace sign is one, though, like many of Joyce's influences, that may not be obvious. In the new silk-screen series "Third of May," wedges, arches and pie sections alternate in columns, almost dancing down the paper. The forms are all the same shapes and sizes, but the prints are all different colors, making for a nice optical effect. Another new silk-screen series from Joyce that explores continuity is "Tree Rings for Judith Pancake (Gold)." In four works, the artist almost attacks the cross-section of a gold and white tree trunk, adding daggers of color and even burning holes, or knots, onto the paper. The starting point for this series is, as the name implies, Judith Pancake, who provided the artwork for René Daumal's influential early-20th-century novel Mount Analogue. Joyce definitely experimented with these flat prints, giving each one its own character even though they all start out as concentric circles. The "vision" of the exhibition's title refers to a large print inspired by Piero della Francesca's Vision of Constantine, a largely blue work that plays on the tent in the 15th-century fresco through repeating triangular tent forms. This one is easy to miss — it's in the gallery's north viewing room — but worth seeking out. The references in these works are a tad random and largely obscure, which can cause a bit of a disconnect for the viewer. But even without knowing them, the colors and playful forms of Joyce's prints are enjoyable to behold. Through August 17. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — MD
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