Capsule Art Reviews: "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know", "Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within.", "Late Surrealism", "Maurice", "Salt House", "Unwoven Light"
"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
"Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within." Abhidnya Ghuge works with the most common and disposable of materials — paper plates. Their abundance comes in handy, though. In her site-specific installations, the artist employs them by the thousands to create unusual forms that snake organically across the room. Her latest installation, poetically yet incomprehensibly titled "Halls without walls, room to feel in. The door awaits you, your return within." takes over the Grace R. Cavnar Gallery at Lawndale Art Center. The somewhat awkwardly shaped room responds well to a work that compels its way through the space, changing how you walk through and forcing you to interact with it. This isn't a flat, unresponsive surface but a dynamic, fleshed-out work with depth; you can see it from all sides and have it completely surround you. With the paper plates folded up into cones and held in place by a wire frame, the flowing form looks like a coral reef out of water. An original wood-block carving is printed on these thousands of paper plates in bright orange, yellow, blue and white colors, further adding to this scaly, reef effect. Upon closer inspection, the wood block design is less coral-inspired and more henna — a nod to the Tyler, Texas-based artist's Indian origins. It's a highly unusual piece, one that's completely unexpected and oddly pretty. It's best viewed as a whole; up close, it's simply paper plates with prints on them, which isn't so magical. But step back and take it all in, and it becomes something else entirely. Through June 15. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — 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
"Maurice" Keith J. Varadi's oil paintings have something you can't quite put your finger on. They seem unexpectedly muted and soft. Even the boldest colors have a quiet quality to them. That's because these oil paintings are copies of oil paintings, the original discarded in favor of this second life. It's a whole process that the Brooklyn artist developed to make the centuries-old act of painting fresh and surprising to him. He starts off by making a painting on a stretched canvas. He then stretches a raw canvas over that painting while the paint is still wet and pushes the paint through the raw canvas without using a paint brush. Sometimes he leaves the end result alone; other times he may add paint to the stain, again without using a brush. Painting without a paintbrush? That's almost a cliché, but it makes for some beautiful results. Fifteen canvases made through this experimental, limited method are on display at David Shelton Gallery in the exhibition "Maurice." Most are a little larger than a notebook, at 12 by 9 inches. They're small, highly contained works. Some even have a thin border of paint around the edges that seems to keep it all in. Overall, they are mostly multicolored paintings full of deliberate marks, busy with abstract splotches and indiscernible forms. Is that a man in Crux Tug? A key? Who can say for sure. These works have depth to them, a sense of history. Others are slightly reminiscent of patterns, such as the camo-like effect of Berms. In several works, the artist doesn't fill the whole canvas, despite its already small size. Toner and Hawking, hung in tandem, are deliberately left bare in places on the canvas, as if half-finished, or half-started. At the same time, the canvas is as much a part of the painting and the materiality as the paint itself. Varadi even likes to say that these paintings aren't oil on canvas — they're oil and canvas. It's an important distinction. Through June 15. 3909 Main, 832-538-0924. —MD
"Salt House" When artists take over the seven row houses from 2505-2521 Holman Street in the Third Ward, there's usually the desire to be busy. Sculpture hangs from the ceilings, drawings are done right on the white paint or each wall is painted a different color entirely. So what's so remarkable about Sean Shim-Boyle's art project currently in one of Project Row Houses' historic shotgun houses is its simplicity. The walls are painted white, the floor a light gray. Nothing hangs from the vaulted ceiling, which is accented by dark crossbeams thanks to the natural architecture of the house. An off-center red-brick chimney, also original to the home, remains untouched except for a couple of lines of white paint, possibly markings left behind by a previous artist. The most significant change Shim-Boyle makes is adding a second red-brick chimney of sorts to the single-room house, extending from one corner across the space to the opposite wall by the door. Because it matches the original chimney as much as the artist can muster and is as solid as can be, it seems like a natural addition — except of course for the awkward angle that'll force most visitors to limbo under it. With the beams across the ceiling and the vertical chimney cutting through it, it's a striking visual. Shim-Boyle has quite the eye. The artist isn't quite done, though. He's made a second, more minor alteration to the house, adding a thin line of fluorescent lights on the floor beneath his slanted chimney. In a room that's already brilliantly well-lit, with sun shining in through the bare windows, it seems like an unnecessary touch. But parallel to the brick addition, it helps to further emphasize this breathtaking presence in the house. Through June 23. 2513 Holman, 713-526-7662. —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
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