Capsule Art Reviews: "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" "São Paulo 2013" "Self, Model, and Self as Other" "Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May" "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. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. —MD
"São Paulo 2013" The art world is currently experiencing an outpouring of multi-venue, multi-person exhibitions of 50 pieces or more. By comparison, John Palmer's 11-piece "São Paulo 2013" series seems tame. But the amount of work that went into creating the exhibition outweighs all the others. Every year, Palmer chooses a destination to visit, and, having returned, produces a body of work based on that visit that he exhibits in his gallery, the self-named John Palmer Fine Art Gallery & Studio. This year, Palmer traveled to São Paulo, Brazil. He decided on his destination based on an essay contest in which entrants were "to select from one of ten types of emotions and describe how that emotion you selected would be the best one to influence John's next international series," according to Ryan Lindsay, co-owner of the gallery. The winner was Julio Montano, whose essay conceptualized the emotion of surprise. Palmer chose to integrate the element of surprise into the entire exhibit, and instead of announcing his trip to São Paulo, told friends, family and collectors that he was headed to Shanghai, China. He didn't land in Shanghai, of course. With the help of Flavia Liz Di Paolo, an aptly named tour guide, Palmer and Lindsay embarked on four days in São Paulo, immersing themselves in the city's culture, geography and museums — even in an instance of political unrest, which they witnessed during a walking tour through the city's back streets. A mural of a bird stood out to him; ironically, Palmer's nickname is "Birdy." Thus, a black-and-white bird — representing freedom — became the second theme of the series. There are three other elements that tie each of Palmer's series to the others: intense color, photography and abstraction. Remarkably, no matter how many times they are repeated, these controlled variables never become stale in Palmer's pieces. São Paulo 2013 No. 4 (still for sale) makes use of all five themes — surprise, freedom, color, photography and abstraction. Most notable among them is the surprise that pops out in this piece: a picture of Palmer, Di Paolo and an unnamed gentleman next to another photograph of a city hall building and a bridge. All three pictures are touched up with colorful squiggles, giving the piece a light, free feeling. All 11 pieces are enclosed in a brick-red compartment titled Closed Box. This container is itself a work of art, as is Open Box, in which the red doors are flung open to reveal what's inside. What you get, ultimately, is not one piece of art but three. Surprise. 1218 Heights, 713-861-6726. — AO
"Self, Model, and Self as Other" This exhibit of 50 self-shot photos from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's photography collection is more than a grab for attention. There is no Photoshop retouching, no Instagram filter, only subtle manipulations of perspective and clever backlighting that reveal each artist's portrait to be a facet of the psychological structure that Sigmund Freud defined as id, ego and superego. "Self as Other" correlates with the superego's job of restraining the untamed desires of the id. Again, these photographs don't have the luxury of digital retouching. There is, however, the use of addition or subtraction, with the artists hiding behind things so as to shield some part of themselves or dressing in flamboyant attire, as in the case of Kimiko Yoshida's The Divine Bride Praying, a piece from her 2003 "Intangible Brides" series. With "Model," the unrestrained id takes over. Ryan Weideman's Self Portrait with Transvestite, photographed in 1997, shows the artist in what appears to be a taxi. He is in the front seat; the transvestite peeks through a hole in the back. Juxtaposing himself — a man dressed in a conventionally masculine suit — with the transvestite — a man in full makeup with a conventionally feminine accent — affords the viewer two different meanings of what it is to be male. On the other hand, Weideman's placing himself in the forefront while the transvestite is confined to a hole in the background may give a negative connotation to the man's choice to feminize his maleness. Balancing the extremes of the superego and the id, the ego is the basis for the pieces that pertain to "Self." Through "Self," the photographers reveal themselves, as Oliver Cromwell said, "warts and all." Jen Davis's photo cleverly shows her "Self" by not showing herself — at least, not all of her. Instead of her face, we get her feet standing on a bathroom scale. The title of her photograph: Judgment. Through September 29. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300. — AO
"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
"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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