Capsule Art Reviews: "Face Off: A Selection of Old Masters and Others from The Menil Collection," "Get a Rope," "Perspectives 165: Contents Under Pressure," "The Puppet Show"
"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
"Perspectives 165: Contents Under Pressure" Juried by artist Dario Robleto, this exhibition of works by Houston-area teens explores containers and containment. The most literal interpretation of the theme is a site-specific installation just outside the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's entrance. Titled What Contains You?, the work is a shipping container that visitors may step into, where they're invited to scrawl their answer to the titular question on a piece of paper and fix it to the metal wall with a magnet. A droning noise on speakers emphasizes an interior pressure and might work the nerves of the claustrophobic. The participatory responses range from the thoughtful to the silly, like "the bottle of memories, good or bad," "my middle name," "the shithole that is Houston," "the man," "skinny jeans" and "LSD." In the Zilkha Gallery, works by more than 40 teens are on display. Standouts include Alex Goss's photographic portraits, which feature subjects whose faces are obscured by Band-Aids, coffee filters and balloons, and a structure built from Hurricane Ike debris made by students from Sam Rayburn High School, which documents their experiences of the storm. It's a poignant reminder of the emotional amplification of adolescence, when even the slightest interruption of routine is tantamount to catastrophe. Through May 10. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — TS
"The Puppet Show" The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is packed with puppets for an exhibition called — what else? — "The Puppet Show." Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the show features work by artists incorporating puppets in the broadest, as well as the narrowest, sense of the word. Numerous works incorporate actual puppets. Probably the best-known puppet-based contemporary artwork, Dennis Oppenheim's 1974 Theme for a Major Hit, greets you as you walk into the exhibition. The piece features five automated marionettes clad in dark suits, all created in Oppenheim's likeness. Every 15 minutes or so, a soundtrack of the artist singing "It ain't what you make, it's what makes you do it" plays, and the puppets — the artist's performing surrogates — begin to frantically tap dance, seeking to entertain the audience. Other standouts include Laurie Simmons's creepy ventriloquist dummy photographs; Terence Gower's Puppet Storage, a plywood room displaying puppets and puppet-related objects; and Louise Bourgeois's vintage-fabric sculpture featuring four "figures" hanging from four metal arms radiating from an iron stand. Video is also a big part of the exhibition, with works by Matt Mullican, Guy Ben-Nur and Cindy Loehr, among many others. "The Puppet Show" does have its share of less interesting selections in which "Hey, it's got a puppet in it!" seems to have been the primary reason for their inclusion. But as a whole, it is intriguing...and creepy. Through April 12. 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250. — KK
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