Capsule Art Reviews: "Elaine Bradford: The Sidereal," "Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph," "Henry Horenstein: Show," "Perspectives 174: Re: Generation," "Round 34: A Matter of Food," "This Is Displacement: Native Artists"
"Elaine Bradford: The Sidereal" There are stores known for doing "artsy" window displays, but artists still come up with the best stuff. The Dallas Art Fair recently organized a series of window installations by artists in the windows of Dallas's downtown Neiman Marcus, and the Blaffer Art Museum is taking advantage of a downtown Houston window space during its upcoming renovation. Elaine Bradford's "The Sidereal" is the first offering in the Blaffer's "Window into Houston" series. The installation builds on the artist's ongoing "Museum of Unnatural History," a faux natural history museum filled with imaginary animals created by Bradford using crochet and actual dead (taxidermied) stuff. "The Sidereal" fills two display windows, one with mutant arctic rabbits and giant "ice" stalactites and stalagmites, the other with oddball woodland creatures and fake greenery. It's a great diorama, although I miss the extra punch of the campy painted backdrops that graced Bradford's Art League "unnatural history" installation. The display windows work especially well at night — and parking is easier. Through June 22. 110 Milam Street, 713-743-9521. — KK
"Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph" Photographs by Heinrich Kühn radiate bourgeois languor. His images from the early years of the 20th century conjure visions of privileged Viennese children on country outings with their governess, flower-filled vases, and women in billowing skirts. Working in various photographic processes, like gum bichromate, which create soft-edged images, Kühn (1866-1944) made prints that resemble pastel or charcoal drawings in their subtlety. Part of the Pictorialist movement that approached photography as an artistic medium, Kühn even ventured into color using multi-layered processes to create works like Mary Warner and Edeltrude, his 1908 image of his daughter with the family's governess. Warner (who seems to have had something more than an employee/employer relationship with the widowed Kühn) is show in a vividly blue, wasp-waisted Edwardian dress. Like many of the photographer's images, it is shot in an open field, implying a leisurely family outing. In reality, Kühn's photographs took hours, as his sitters, mainly his children and Warner, held poses or sat waiting for the sun and shadows to move into perfect composition. The images were far less leisurely than they appear, not to mention the fact that Kühn continued to create them as the carnage of WWI encroached. Through May 30. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300. — KK
"Henry Horenstein: Show" Fans of burlesque, striptease, drag and general alternative performance won't want to miss John Cleary Gallery's sexy exhibition of Henry Horenstein's moody photography. Simply titled "Show," the exhibit definitely puts one on. Horenstein, who at one time documented American country music's slide into the pop realm, has always been interested in subcultures, and this show is a grainy, high-contrast series of black-and-white scenes of fetish and titillation. Horenstein's images don't capture America's heartland at all; everything's pretty much shot in New York and Los Angeles — there's only one photo taken in New Orleans, which is surprising. I wished there were more of a connection between coasts. There's a lot of fishnets, pasties, closeups on tattoos, ass shots, piercings, nipples, knife-throwing and flame-blowing, which isn't all that intriguing as a subject — burlesque and underground carnival acts have been back in vogue for going on two decades now. What makes Horenstein's photos exceptional is his use of shadow, contrast and natural grain, which can't be experienced fully in a digital photo. My favorite was a photo of a woman's ass, titled Butt, RiFiFi, New York, NY, framed horizontally, with the white cheeks separated by black panties at the bottom lower left. It's abstract in composition; it took more than a few seconds to go, "Oh, it's an ass." But that's just one example. Horenstein's camera crystallizes the intimate, entertaining, arousing and soulful essence of burlesque. Through May 28, John Cleary Gallery, 2635 Colquitt, 713-524- 5070. — TS
"Perspectives 174: Re: Generation" This biennial exhibition organized by the CAMH's Teen Council showcases the work of Houston-area teens, and it features some wonderful stuff — you'll want to take down some names of artists to watch. The flagship image of the show is Alyssa Hansen's digital photograph Princess, a closeup on a teenage girl's lower lip, which she reveals to be tattooed with a crown. It's a generational line in the sand, an example of a phenomenon that makes perfect sense to those of a certain age, and yet it represents total absurdity to their elders. Another photograph, David Garrett Marsh's Fading Away, depicts an overweight girl sitting cross-legged at the side of a road, smoking. Next to her is a fuzzy gray cloud in the shape of another person, perhaps a friend. And the girl's face is strangely blurred — on closer inspection, her face is pixelated and raised off the surface of the paper. Ava Barrett's Deconstructed Hymnal: Wall of Sound is a hanging matrix of hymnal pages that walks a line between provocative and reverent. But Temin Adelaide Eng's Twilight doesn't pull punches on how it feels about its literary subject: Stephenie Meyer's series of vampire novels. Eng has constructed a miniature coffin, lined with pages from the novel, which she has burned. Its charred remains lie inside with only a portion of the cover and spine intact to identify it. And continuing the impressive photography on display is Brittany Nichols's Strange Manners, a scene of macabre domestic violence. A man wearing a rabbit mask lies dead on a kitchen floor, apparently stabbed to death by a woman, also rabbit-masked and bloody-handed. It's a coolly composed, lit and staged piece of narrative photography. Through June 26. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250.— TS
"Round 34: A Matter of Food" Project Row Houses' current round of installations takes food as its theme — the roles it plays in culture, history, belief systems, rituals and community. Chefs, historians, nutritionists and gardeners (as well as artists) were asked to participate by curators Ashley Clemmer Hoffman and Linda Shearer, and perhaps that's why there's less art on display than usual. The round leans heavily on community outreach, historical commentary and environmental projects, and only three houses out of the seven present challenging emotional and intellectual experiences. New York-based artist Michael Pribich's Sugar Land presents the sugar trade from the laborer to the factory, with stalks of cane standing upright inside a brass railing, bags of Imperial sugar stacked upon wall-mounted machetes, and a series of framed dollar bills with stamped letters that spell "Imperial." Jorge Rojas's Gente de Maiz explores corn/maize as a religious entity. He created a miniature army of corn people and a kind of altar/shrine to the corn gods. And Tamalyn Miller's Spirit House takes inspiration from Amish hex signs with a series of large crocheted doilies (made of clothesline, string and electrical wire, and adorned with horseshoes, dimes and railroad spikes. Not really food-inspired, but it's the most inspired installation in the round. The signs are thought to repel evil spirits and energy, but their presence makes each room feel haunted somehow. Through June 19. Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662. — TS
"This Is Displacement: Native Artists" As an educational exhibit about the cultural displacement felt among Native Americans, the current group show at DiverseWorks suits the purposes of curator Carolyn Lee Anderson and co-curator Emily Johnson. Both artists are tribal descendents and share an internal longing for their ancestral cultures. As an art exhibit, however, the results are mixed. The works on display vary from folksy stuff to high-quality conceptual work, and there are hits and misses along the way (Anderson's own Self Portrait: Between Dinetah and Mni Sota is a particularly cheesy and New Age-y "miss"). But overall, the show scores for its range of personality and idiosyncratic portrait of the Native psyche. Standouts include Shan Goshorn's quirky photograph Indin Car, a snapshot of guys dressed in Native gear and makeup, in a truck and perhaps on the way to a festival performance. Take away the context, though, and they could be en route to a bizarre metal show. The Brady Bunch goes to the reservation in Kennetha Greenwood and Kimberly Rodriguez's A Very Braidy Bunch, two photo assemblages that mimic the TV show's iconic theme grid image. On the left, a stereotypical depiction, complete with a teenage mother and an old drunk; on the right, a grid of success stories (a doctor, a graduate, a musician). In Daniel McCoy Jr.'s poppy, comic-bookish Andrew Jackson Meets Voltron, the seventh president and enforcer of the Indian Removal Act is challenged by the early-'80s anime character at the scene of an Indian genocide. And Nicolas Galanin's hypnotic two-part video Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan juxtaposes a dancer poppin' and lockin' to tribal percussion with the same dancer performing a ceremonial dance (in tribal costume) to contemporary electronic music, artfully linking past and present. Through June 11, DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Fwy., 713-223-8346. — TS
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