Capsule Art Reviews: "Gunplay," "Neurotic," "The Livable Forest," "Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion"
"Gunplay" I was almost seduced by Harlow Tighe's photograms. The sepia-toned images of various handguns — Colt Dragoon, Browning Buckmark, Ruger Vacquero — are repeated throughout Gallery Two1Four. The monochromatic effect of the brown paper and white, seemingly absent guns in various formation makes for an alluring show. That's kind of the point, too. Through her photograms, Tighe is attempting to change the meaning and associations we might have with guns and take away their power. And the resulting graphics are eye-catching and, well, cool. But then, I read about Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager who was killed by a handheld gun — a Kel Tel 9 mm, to be exact — while walking home from a convenience store last month. And then, this "gunplay" doesn't look so cool anymore. Tighe chose handguns as a subject for a reason. Beyond her own interest in them — she grew up in the South "surrounded by guns," having an almost blasé attitude toward them until living abroad and suddenly seeing America's gun culture as "exotic" — handguns are highly recognizable objects. That's an ideal quality when you're working in photograms, a process that involves placing an object on a piece of light-sensitive paper and then exposing that paper to light. Admittedly, it's clever stuff, especially the piece Flower Power 1, where a gun is "shooting" these botanical elements across two separate pieces. Several other eye-catching works add some corsets and panties to the mix, guns tucked away in the lingerie but still visible. They're appealing pieces when you're surrounded by them, but when I go back to Martin, it all seems like child's play and woefully out of touch. Tighe says so herself that she is attempting to strip guns of their power through a "search for beauty." But in the process, she also manages to make them even more alluring. It's unfortunate timing. She is giving guns more power, not taking it away. Through April 21. 214 Travis St., 713-227-1263. — MD
"Neurotic" Over a film career spanning 40 years, John Waters has managed to simultaneously offend and entertain his audience. His art, it turns out, is no different. This show at McClain Gallery includes conceptual works by the Pink Flamingos director made between 1993 and 2009 that comment on film, writing, sex, humor, and, yes, neuroses — it's a glimpse inside Waters's twisted, transgressive bald head. The bulk of the show is comprised of these visual storyboards — movie stills Waters took with a camera and grouped by a highly specific, highly dark theme. There are images of plane crashes, people puking, drug use — he tries to make you cringe, then laugh, then question both reactions. In other, less shocking montages, Waters had some fun with Photoshop. In Product Placement, he adds some unfamiliar items to famous movie moments (in one humorous scene, Charlton Heston's Moses clutches The Ten Commandments in one hand, a bottle of Tilex in the other). Though all made within the past 15 years, these series have this throwback 1980s New York art school vibe that Waters seems to embody. On the non-photography side, Waters fills the gallery with quirky surprises that are also highly personal works. There's his larger-than-life replica of a La Mer jar — a long-time favorite of the artist's — minus the actual lotion (if he did fill it with the pricey stuff, the jar would have a price tag upwards of $200,000). For some inside art world humor, there's Visit Marfa, a satirical advertisement for the minimalist art capital of Texas. The poster highlights such attractions as "Eat food all the same color," "Pretend to see the 'Marfa Lights,'" "It's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g drive!" You get the idea. It's one of the few insidery pieces in an otherwise highly accessible show. Through April 21. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — MD
"The Livable Forest" This winter, the closest you can come to ice is at the Devin Borden Gallery. Laura Lark's latest show turns the gallery into a cool forest of silver and white. From the piles of brick on the ground, topped by deer and sirens, to the Tyvek the Houston artist uses as a canvas, the space is coated in shiny silver and stretches of white. The human dwellers of this forest are equally cool — portraits of Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda and a trio of lounging, longhaired women hang throughout the space, with silver strands of faux leaves hanging from the ceiling. The images of McQueen and Fonda, pulled from old magazine photo shoots, are meticulously made through stippling — a seemingly simple, elementary task of making many, many black dots, here with a Sharpie marker, with the dots denser in some parts, less so in others, to create the desired image. It's a technique Lark has used before, but is still completely awe-inspiring. Other works are made with watercolor, in smooth, blue strokes that look light and easy in comparison despite their own painterly skill. Lark has chosen one of Steve McQueen's most enduring images — his 1962 Harper's Bazaar cover — to re-create, but she crops out any white space, so that even the magazine name just reads "Azaa," and just focuses on his grinning mug, draped by a seemingly disembodied arm. Lark's black-and-white stippling technique makes him ghostly, as if McQueen is slowly disappearing. In a second dotted-Sharpie replica of the movie star, McQueen comes off more menacing than sexy, as the lipstick marks on his forehead and mouth once implied, with his hard, cold stare coming back at you. Fonda, on the other hand, looks more like a goddess than ever in a long, striking profile, based on an image when she was a teenager, forever young. Through April 7. 3917 Main, 713-529-2700. — MD
"Perspectives 177: McArthur Binion" McArthur Binion's show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston features a repetition of geometric shapes — triangles, squares and circles — varying only by color. To make them, he presses wax crayon onto wood and aluminum panels in a very laborious process that results in what the Chicago artist likes to call "Rural Modernism," both a nod to the pieces' heavy texture and his Mississippi upbringing. The result of all this repetition, however, is that once you see one piece, you've seen them all. Whether it's a red triangle, green triangle or purple triangle, there's not much to propel you forward. To be fair, each piece is subtly different, though that's largely indiscernible to the naked eye. That's because barely visible under each layer of crayon are autobiographical elements — pictures of Binion, his birth house, and parents, as well as lynched men and even racist and stereotypical imagery taken from fruit wrappings. The artist cleverly calls this the "under-consciousness" of the work, though like anything that's under the surface, you have to be told it's there, or otherwise miss it completely. One piece that did stand out in the artist's museum debut was Stellucca I: (Rural Geometry) — a parallelogram, the only one of its kind in the show, whose title is a combination of Binion's children's names, Stella and Lucca. With just a few simple lines, Binion manages to create a great tension that really grabs you. Through April 1. 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250. — MD
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