Capsule Art Reviews: "Dennis Harper — Ritual Prototypes for the Afterlife," "Face Off: A Selection of Old Masters and Others from The Menil Collection," "Get a Rope," "Sarah Sudhoff — Repository"
"Dennis Harper — Ritual Prototypes for the Afterlife" Dennis Harper's delightfully subversive installation at Lawndale features a video interview with a man describing his religious upbringing, how he never really believed in the afterlife but felt obligated due to family pressure. He even wanted very much to believe but always had a gut feeling that when you're dead, you're dead. "And you wonder if anyone else honestly believes," he says. "It's like when they put those bullshit model boats in the tomb for the journey to the afterlife. How about a real fucking boat?" They are the words of Tutankhamen, portrayed by Harper as a middle-aged man who happens to be the second-coming version of the boy pharaoh. This brilliant narrative maneuver fleshes out the display of slickly made trompe l'oeil sculptures meant to evoke the interior of a tomb where monumental artifacts and furnishings have been placed to guide a spirit into the afterlife. There's American Idle, a massive golden engine; Remote Control Killer Bulldozer, which emits a video projection of its intended victims, most likely UH art students running for their lives through a campus parking lot at night; Mega Bennu, a giant, winged motorcycle; and Lazyboy with Jackals, a silver-lamé upholstered La-Z-Boy chair supported by two statues of the underworld jackal-god Anubis, which faces a flat-screen TV playing the Tut interview. It perfectly suits Harper's fictional exploration of Tut's spiritual journey that his tomb would look like a basement storage room at FAO Schwartz. Through April 13. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — TS
"Face Off: A Selection of Old Masters and Others from The Menil Collection" This is a relatively small exhibition at The Menil Collection, which, according to museum materials, "examines one of the most primary elements of human interaction: to look upon the face of another." The work, in both selection and installation, has an emotive and conversational quality rarely found in museum or gallery installations, thanks to the combined genius of curator Franklin Sirmans and exhibition designer Brooke Stroud. "Face Off" includes paintings, prints and sculptural works both ancient and modern, sacred and secular; some are highly recognizable, others rarely seen. Standouts include Christian Bérard's Portrait of Tamara Toumanova (1931), which shows her in profile, with her face turned toward the viewer, looking slightly annoyed at having been disturbed; Joshua Reynolds's A Young Black (circa 1770), which exudes a dignity that I believe cannot be made up by the facile hand of an artist; and Rembrandt Van Rijn, St. Philip Baptizing the Eunuch (1641) and its near neighbor, a painting by Aelbert Cuyp, The Baptism of the Eunuch (circa 1642-43), two artworks that tell different versions of a story found in the book of Luke in the Bible. Even though the exhibition takes place in a relatively small space, each and every piece in "Face Off" is a treasure, from Goya's aquatints Disasters of War and Los Caprichos to the sweetest Egyptian funerary mask I've ever seen. Through April 26. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — BS
"Get a Rope" Named after that famous retort in the picante sauce commercials, "Get a Rope" pulls together nine New York City-based artists with varying connections to Houston. Curator Cathy Grayson specifically chose artists whose work bears an immediate and often sexually charged directness, the kind of perspective, she thinks, Texans might appreciate. Patrick Griffin, who grew up in Houston, contributes Country Music, which is perhaps the most literally Texas-themed work. Supported by mounted bull horns, his canvas reads "Lovin Losin Leavin Cryin" spelled out in lasso-rope cursive. Dash Snow (grandson of Christophe de Menil) offers a quartet of photographs that suggest the end results of some obviously bizarre circumstances — one features a naked butt with a twisted sprout of paper poking out. That said, "anal" certainly describes Terence Koh's five-hour silent video GOD, an explicit, stupid, cliché-ridden "art porno" in which a man in a rabbit mask plunders a willing male bottom. (That was the film's only narrative element I could, or was willing to, discern.) It should be said that Koh's non-video pieces on display fare much better. Aurel Schmidt's Silent Night is maybe the most nakedly provocative piece in the show. A Christmas tree, decorated with cigarette-butt chains and sprinkled with tiny gold crosses, is hung upside down from the ceiling, suspended over a statuette of Jesus hugging a little boy and a little girl. The children's mouths are covered in black tape. But Schmidt has a fun side—her drawings of phallic vegetables and fruit sheathed in condoms balance the exhibit's more raw works with a playful lightness. Through April 18. CTRL Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS
"Sarah Sudhoff — Repository" San Antonio-based photographer Sarah Sudhoff's first solo show scores for its bravery in depicting something as emotionally loaded as cancer treatment with bold austerity and subtle humor. The artist underwent surgery for cervical cancer in 2004, survived it and began examining medical environments through photography and video. Included are nicely saturated color photos of sample cups, bloody gauze, uninhabited examining rooms and tissue samples, along with large-scale, elegantly composed self-portraits in varying examination poses. One, Exam 2, in which Sudhoff sits upright on an exam table dressed in a plaid smock and bright green stockings, her feet resting in the stirrups, references the portrait series for Matthew Barney's overtly masculine Cremaster films, but from a feminine perspective. Sudhoff extracts herself from the photo's accompanying video — in which she passes time going through drawers and medical tools (she eventually administers her own pap smear and reads The New Yorker) — to pose for a picture. In another video, she bathes in a stainless steel basin. The clinical and stark nature of the work sustains an earthbound, taut tension that suggests stifled emotion ready to explode. Sudhoff is keeping it together while ugly, bloody reality lurks in the hospital's various repositories. Through April 17. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS
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