Capsule Art Reviews: "Guns and Roses," "Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph," "Henry Horenstein: Show," "Minimalux," "Round 34: A Matter of Food," "The Whole World Was Watching: Civil Rights-Era Photographs"
"Guns and Roses" On the surface, the new show at Anya Tish Gallery recalls happy childhood memories and tooth-rotting sweetness. But there's dark commentary lurking in the work of Texas artists Shannon Cannings and Ann Wood. Cannings paints toy guns with an emphasis on their bright colors and plastic details, like the "wood grain" in the stock of a green water-machine-gun. She paints each toy firearm as if it were mounted on a wall, capturing the glowing shadows cast through colored plastic. One work, Cross Your Heart, is an image of an Annie Oakley-style rifle with pink stock and shoulder strap. The way the strap hangs from the gun casts a shadow resembling the shape of a cross-your-heart bra. The seven pieces are all beautiful, and they challenge our recollections of childhood fun with the argument that they teach kids to be violent. Wood's installation Snare is an intensely bright scene of bunnies, a tall cake and roses coated in frosting-like substances and what looks like poured pink taffy. The bunnies are taxidermy forms, and the pink "taffy" is actually poured foam. Wood translates the sweet, pleasing attraction of candy and dessert into an image of suffering and encroaching death. It recalls pictures of birds covered in oil from the BP disaster. Emotionally, it sweeps you from enjoying its silliness to seeing it as a symbol of the ultimate humiliation of nature. Through June 4. Anya Tish Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-524-2299. — TS
"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 shown 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
"Minimalux" Minimalux is a London-based design studio that specializes in small, modern tableware, desk products and accessories. Founded by designer Mark Holmes, the studio utilizes premium materials for its minimalist products, which are geometrically pure in shape. Peel Gallery, the only U.S. seller of Minimalux designs, is currently displaying 23 objects as an exhibit. And it's pretty ridiculous. Not that anyone wouldn't want to own any of the products — I'd love a copper, silver and borosilicate glass vase in the shape of a beaker. I'd even go for a solid polished brass pen holder in the shape of a cube. Would I pay upwards of $400 for either? Never. It seems Peel is trying to ride a line between high-end design and fine art with this show; the small objects are displayed along two walls with a line of vinyl text (basically company advertising boilerplate). The gallery asks visitors not to touch the objects, as if they're precious artifacts, but they were covered in fingerprints anyway, which says something about the failure of this enterprise. It comes off as though Minimalux rented the gallery as a pop-up shop. There's nothing wrong with that; galleries are in the business of selling. But selling overpriced desk accessories? Paper-clip dishes and pen rests? Seriously, who needs a sterling silver pill tube? It's almost a must-see show for its pure, yet unintended, farce. Peel says it'll soon be selling the products at its Web site, peelgallery.org. So now you know where to waste some money for Father's Day. Through June 4. Peel Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-8122. — 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
"The Whole World Was Watching: Civil Rights-Era Photographs" This selection of photography from a collection given to the Menil by Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil documents the civil rights struggles of the late '50s and early '60s, when the exhibit's title phrase, "The Whole World Was Watching," was adopted by activists and political groups as a rallying cry for change. It refers, of course, to the advent of television and the ability for wide dissemination of images depicting racial injustice in the southern United States. The exhibit documents the signs of segregation, the presence of the KKK, battles with law enforcement and the cruel practice of blasting protesters with water from high-pressure fire hoses, and it also displays the nonviolent marches, moments of solidarity and other images that embody the race relations of the times, as seen through the lenses of six photographers. Bruce L. Davidson's Woman being held by two policemen captures a protester being detained in front of a movie theater whose marquee adds intriguing commentary to the image. A young African-American man in whiteface, with the word "vote" written across his forehead, marches in another photo by Davidson. And Martin Luther King Jr. happily shakes hands with women from his car in Leonard Freed's image Maryland. They're just a few of the extraordinary images on display. Through September 25. Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — TS
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