Capsule Art Reviews: "George Gittoes: Witness to War" "Jackie Gendel: Fables in Slang" "Musicians Who Make Art" "Nathan Green: Fill the Sky" "Perspectives 174: Re: Generation" "Voodoo Pop: Mary Hayslip and Trey Speegle"
"George Gittoes: Witness to War" Australian artist George Gittoes isn't afraid to put himself at the epicenters of some of the worst acts of human brutality on the planet in order to make his art. His travels have taken him to Rwanda, Bosnia, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other war-torn countries. This exhibit at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art is the first major presentation of his artwork in the United States. It's chilling, disgusting, journalistic and entertaining all at once. As a visual diary of Gittoes's experiences, the show is a massive dose of illustrated storytelling told through installation, video, drawing, painting, collage and the handwritten word. It takes several hours to experience it all, and we didn't try to soak it all up, because even an hour's worth is excruciatingly depressing. But we agree with Gittoes that it's absolutely necessary for us to look. The artist is holding a mirror up to the evil and ugliness of the world, hoping that will, in effect, destroy evil—like Perseus using a reflection to kill Medusa. A grotesque mythology is employed in Gittoes' work, too. Out of very real evil he constructs graphic-novel-esque narratives about supernatural soldiers and mutant wars rooted in the emotional reality of genocide. In Assumption, a cloud of bloodied, mutilated bodies ascends toward...Heaven, maybe? Another painting takes inspiration from a photograph of a severely beaten Rwandan boy (or maybe a girl?) and transforms it into a hellish image of violence in action. On the entertaining side, don't miss the impressively realized installation of a video store in the Taliban-controlled city of Peshawar. The Taliban are known for bombing such businesses, and Gittoes presents one in incredible detail, with video monitors and walls covered in hilarious DVD covers created by Gittoes himself. It slyly comments on the absurdity of an anti-technology culture using technology to destroy technology (and culture). Through July 17. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. – TS
"Jackie Gendel: Fables in Slang" Houston-born Jackie Gendel paints portraits and people in a style that recalls a number of late-19th-early-20th-century French painters, but with cranked-up distortion. Her people are constantly obscured by a surface abstraction, or they retreat into the background, virtually faceless with the furniture and decor surrounding them. Chaty and Marthe in the Kitchen is perhaps this series's most striking work, and it demonstrates Gendel's anti-narrative approach. Two women sit at a kitchen table looking epically bored. Their faces and hair are the most detailed parts of the painting, which is brilliantly colored as well. In fact, its brightness is in direct opposition to the malaise depicted. In Calloway, a 1930s-era man is surrounded by wild abstraction that is threatening to envelop him. In a trio of small gouache-on-paper works, Gendel's subjects turn noir-ish, suggesting an unknowable evil in the characters' black-and-white eyes. Field of Mars III looks like a scene out of Greek Myth updated by the presence of a woman in a 1980s outfit and hairdo. Gendel challenges our notions of art and history with mischievous and dreamy flourishes. Through July 2. Bryan Miller Gallery, 3907 Main, 713-523-2875. — TS
"Musicians Who Make Art" When speaking of crossover in art forms, perhaps musicians and visual artists are most successful at achieving success in each other's fields of expertise. Through their manual manipulations of instruments and materials, musicians and visual artists seem naturally inclined to swing between the visual image and the sonic composition. The Art Car Museum is proving it with its current exhibit "Musicians Who Make Art." Largely a Texas-based conglomeration of art, the show includes works by well-known musicians like Butch Hancock of the Flatlanders, whose otherworldly prints evoke sci-fi fantasy, and Joe Ely, who contributes a photo montage/collage of funny, prison-themed DIY infographics. Austin's Bob Schneider's contribution is most surprising, with his outlandish and meticulously detailed etchings and aquatints. (We actually like his artwork more than his music.) Ken Little and Bryan Wheeler are better known as visual artists first (who also play in bands), and their works on display are among the most visually arresting in the exhibit. Wheeler's Infinite Jest takes cues from Jasper Johns in its striking amalgamation of pop and abstract imagery, while Little's Black Jacket Moose amuses as a taxidermied moose head impressively outfitted in black leather and a selection of sporting-good footgear. On the local end, standouts include work by local concept-rock legend Beans Barton, Two Star Symphony's Jo Bird and the Sideshow Tramps' Craig Kinsey. Our favorite is a piece that addresses the quintessential meeting of art and music: the album cover. Jessica DeCuir of San Antonio's Hyperbubble deconstructs the covers of Blondie's Parallel Lines, Men at Work's Business as Usual and the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You into a cool, abstract grid. Through August 7. 140 Heights, 713-861-5526. – TS
"Nathan Green: Fill the Sky" Art Palace is one of our favorite galleries, but we just don't get Nathan Green's current show "Fill the Sky." Some of the 25 abstract, mixed-media works score on their own, like Gradients, a conglomeration of black-and-white cylindrical forms that has a real sense of action in its composition, and Migration, a similar grouping of shapes with frenetic energy. But taken together, it feels like too much is on display. Abstract works can veer into embarrassing, this-is-bullshit territory, and some of the stuff here unfortunately does. It should have been edited. One wall is cluttered with paintings of various sizes with no discernible method or structure in its installation. Another entire gallery wall has been painted in columns of gradient green and blue stripes with a few paintings hung to it. It looks good, and it's a puzzling technique, but there's a messiness to it (as well as in several other works) that gives off a slapdash, kindergarten-chic vibe. It's a strange hybrid of a conceptual installation and an everything-must-go blowout sale. Through July 2. 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. — 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
"Voodoo Pop: Mary Hayslip and Trey Speegle" This retrospective exhibition embodies three decades of Trey Speegle and Mary Hayslip's friendship, featuring items from their personal collections, paintings, collage, textile works, bits of correspondence and photos. After bonding with Hayslip in late-'70s Houston, Speegle relocated to NYC in 1980, but he and Hayslip remained friends for over 30 years while continuing their art careers. Speegle's work dominates the show, especially selections of his poppy paint-by-numbers pieces, which re-purpose vintage paint-by-numbers canvases to imagine hidden messages embedded within them — like You Who (self portrait), an image of a clown with the title text spelled in the exposed numbered outlines of the painting's surface. Other standout work includes Gold Carolyn, a portrait of Carolyn Farb from a 1981 Speegle show called "RePOP," which was a kind of Warholian take on Houston celebs including Marvin Zindler, Lynn Wyatt and Dominique de Menil; Hayslip's laminated magazine-paper flowers; and a display case with postcards, small sculptures, jewelry and photos of the two artists during the '80s. It's a sweet selection of artifacts from a friendship in art. Through June 24. Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — TS
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