Capsule Art Reviews: "Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth," "Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings," "Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days," "Mie Olise: Crystal Bites of Dust," "The Progress of Love," "Rosa Loy: Souvenir," "Wilo Vargas: Hierophany and Pareidolia"
"Joshua Goode: Origin of Myth" Joshua Goode is a big kid at heart. The Fort Worth artist has a silly sense of humor, plays with toys and is boundlessly imaginative. Just look at his show currently up at Darke Gallery, better off temporarily known as the Contemporary Alternative Natural History Museum. The Detering Street gallery is filled with "artifacts" "discovered" by Goode during an "excavation" of its street, the story goes. These artifacts are attributed to the Ancient Aurora Rhome civilization in North Texas, and, according to the gallery's fantastic release, "possess attributes of objects found in ancient Egyptian, Mycenaean, Etruscan tombs and of toys from the 1980s." Love it. They are unholy combinations of toys — there's a horse with a man's legs where its head should be, a tiger's body with a horse's rump for a head, and so on — and are given the most ridiculous names (the Legorse, the Asshtar). These chimeras — all painted the same shimmery gold — are placed under bell jars and accompanied by labels describing the figurines and their significance to the Aurora Rhome civilization. Goode is fully committed to this bit of make-believe. The fun doesn't stop there. Gallery-goers are able to participate in the excavation, too, thanks to a wooden rectangular structure filled with salt and buried figurines that you can dig for. Once you find one, you can identify and document it by placing it on a shelf underneath its appropriate label. Accompanying these figures are a whopping 40 small-scale paintings that Goode calls "Auroran Miniatures." These depict anything from fossils and ghosts to oil fields and owls and are all done in a loose, collage-like style that seems to evoke the artist's memories. If you detect a strong childlike quality to them in their crudeness (and, in one case, penciled hearts), Goode's six-year-old daughter in fact worked with him on these. The show is titled "Origin of Myth," and it is a fascinating exploration of one man's personal mythology as he ravages his past and present for material — and gives it new meaning in the process. The sprawling exhibit presents an impressive range of skill, too, as everything on display, including the beautiful wooden pedestals that support the bell jars and the interactive dig, is the result of Goode's touch. It all makes for a unique show unlike anything you've ever experienced. Through March 9. 320-B Detering. 713-542-3802. — MD
"Mac Whitney: Sculptures and Paintings" Mac Whitney's current show at Gallery Sonja Roesch only just went up earlier in January, but the sculptor would be familiar to regular gallery-goers as well as those who just happen to drive by the Midtown gallery. For the past seven months, the artist's 3,000-plus-pound sculpture Carrizozo has stood prominently outside the gallery, a red beacon as well as a preview of sorts of his solo show — a variety bag of a dozen of the Texas artist's sculptures, as well as a handful of paintings, all made over the latter half of his more than 40-year career. Whitney is a skilled metalworker who can manipulate steel at any scale and make it bend or curve at his command. It's quite astonishing to go from his 20-foot-tall Carrizozo to the barely 20-inch Bosque, another red number that rests on the gallery's table and is one of the first works you see upon entering. Despite their difference in stature, they have the same sense of strength, movement and elegance. Through his minimal use of color — just solid reds, blacks, blues or grays — he lets the raw steel do the talking. The artist's paintings are quite the departure from his metalwork. Where Whitney's sculptures are strong, interlocking forms, his oil paintings are loose and erratic in their lines. Where his sculptures are solid, bold colors, his paintings are messy bursts of blues, yellows and reds all at once. It's like he's freeing his mind from the constraints of the steel and imagining what shapes he might be able to bend his next sculpture into, against all odds. Through February 23. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. —MD
"Maggie Taylor: No Ordinary Days" Maggie Taylor's brand of photomontage is a fascinating mix of old and new forms of photography that results in even more fascinating images. Since 1996, the Florida artist has been working with Photoshop, taking advantage of its imaging magic to create pictures that are truly surreal, strange and, yes, magical. She starts with 19th-century tintypes, photographs and other images she's acquired from flea markets, antique stores, eBay or other artists. She scans and then manipulates them in Photoshop, colorizing and layering the originals with her own photographs and other images she's come across. In what takes only seconds to describe, Taylor will spend weeks, often months manipulating a single piece, adding upwards of 60 layers or more. Thirty of these resulting images are on display at Catherine Couturier Gallery, timed to the publication of a new book of Taylor's works titled No Ordinary Days. Indeed, these pieces are anything but ordinary. Taylor's work is often described using the word "dreamscapes," but it's difficult to tell whether it's born of dreams or nightmares. In her alternate, unsettling realities, bees can magically coordinate to form a dress; a swimmer walks a cloud; a child tears her head in two as if it's a piece of paper; pigs fly; animals, flowers and leaves explode out of the back of a man's head; and landscapes are paradoxically lit like in Magritte's Empire of Light, the sky light as day while the land is in the shadows of darkness. They're by turns delightful and bizarre, but they're oddly compelling in their strangeness. They seem like illustrations to fairy tales or children's stories, full of whimsy, beauty and originality. And like any good tale, they leave you questioning your own sense of what's possible. Through March 16. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — MD
"Mie Olise: Crystal Bites of Dust" The Gowanus Canal is barely two miles long and yet the lore surrounding the Brooklyn waterway is renowned. Decades of pollution from chemical plants and coal yards on its shores have made it one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the nation, and two years ago it was designated a Superfund site. At one point, it was even diagnosed with gonorrhea. Sadly, it's also a place where dolphins go to die. For years, the area surrounding the canal has also attracted artists looking for cheap rents and the romantic inspiration that decaying industrial sites can bring. Mie Olise is one of them. Originally from Copenhagen, the painter currently has a studio only a few blocks from the canal, and her latest series pulls directly from the canal (literally, it turns out, too). As if the canal's bleak, rugged industrialism and murky, toxic waters didn't provide enough to work with, Olise was also painting after Hurricane Sandy, and the resulting displacement of the area's structures is evident. Things are slightly off in her loose, flat paintings. Boats and canoes lean at odd angles, and factories and plants stand on stilts, stretching up to the sky at unsettling heights and tilts. These aren't landscapes, either — the boats and houses that occupy her monumental paintings and small studies exist in their own planes, with little telling you this is even a waterfront, save for the reflections of canoes in a couple of works. In a move that's both fascinating and icky, Olise uses her subject literally in her paintings, mixing water from the Gowanus with her acrylic paint. It's there in all of her works, though its presence seems to be most evident in the dirty brown of "Loading House." The titular house looms intimidatingly and threatens to collapse on its thin wooden legs at any second, or just wash away completely. Thanks to the dripping quality of Olise's Gowanus paint, it seems to be in the midst of that process. But these works aren't all dark. Olise employs unnaturally cheery pastels in her paintings, from the pinks in the canoes and solid backdrops to the dreamy strips of blues in her abandoned factories. The Gowanus in Olise's mind is not some gross, sad place, but one still worthy of some color and beauty. Through March 8. Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, 713-520-9200. — MD
"The Progress of Love" One of the most important names in The Menil Collection's exhibition of contemporary African art is a French guy who's been dead for more than 200 years. Jean-Honoré Fragonard was one of the first European artists to portray love not as an allegory or myth but, as curator Kristina Van Dyke tells us, "a contemporary phenomenon." His Progress of Love cycle of paintings is one such example, depicting a narrative of modern love for the time, from initial pursuit, including the exchange of love letters, to its fulfillment, all in that playful rococo style. The Menil's show, which explores modern representations of love, recognizes its debt to Fragonard by borrowing the title of his painting cycle. One of the very first works you see is also a not-so-subtle reference to Fragonard's most famous painting, The Swing. In The Swing (After Fragonard), British artist Yinka Shonibare, who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, creates a life-size replica of Fragonard's flirty woman on the swing, foliage and all, with her slipper even playfully kicked off and suspended in the air. But instead of wearing mid-18th-century French dress, she's sporting a dress made out of Dutch Wax-painted textile. And, even more noticeably, she's headless, as if allowing viewers to substitute anyone they want in that role. From there, the ambitious show presents a number of different representations of love — friendship, patriotism, narcissism, pornography and more — from more than 20 contemporary artists. The artists live all over the world but mostly hail from Africa. There are all types of media on display, too, but the installations are really something. South Africa-born Kendell Geers's Arrested Development (Cardiac Arrest) consists of one item repeated 164 times — glass casts of police batons — that he's arranged into the shape of a giant glass heart. All at once it brings to mind the dichotomy of love and hate and asks what place love has in violence, and vice versa. Nadine Robinson's clever installation Like Three manages to be massive and minuscule all at once. A white board with a line across the middle is flanked by vintage speakers. The refrain of The Persuaders song, "It's a thin line between love and hate," is on repeat, like some earworm. That appears to be all there is to take in, until you get up close and realize that black line is actually handwriting, spelling out random words like "happy people," "shampoos," "perfume" and "strawberry ice cream" — a literal thin line between love and hate. Love takes the form of physical affection in the video installation Eaten by the Heart, a piece the Menil commissioned from Nigeria-born filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa that attempts to answer the question "How do Africans kiss?" It features 11 couples smooching for about five minutes each. A unique background color and soundtrack are used for each one (one couple kisses to crashing waves, another to a cheering sports crowd). It's a sweet concept, but I don't think most people can stand to watch an hour of other people making out. There's much, much more to see anyway. It's a big show befitting the subject matter, and each work is more surprising, unique and unexpected than the next, which is no small feat. Through March 17. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. —MD
"Rosa Loy: Souvenir" In describing Rosa Loy's work, artist Helmut Klarner writes that "the seemingly representational fails to explain itself." That does so well to describe the experience of looking at Loy's paintings that I couldn't help quoting it here. Nearly 30 recent paintings and drawings by the German artist are on display at McClain Gallery in "Souvenir," her first exhibition in Texas. Loy's work is often accompanied by the adjective "feminine," and it's easy to see why. The subjects of her paintings are all women — long-haired women, short-haired women, dreaming women, mischievous women playing with fire, levitating women. Loy also often puts her women in domestic settings — houses appear frequently, including on the top of two flying women's shoulders in "Saat des Schweigenssaat." Clearly, these are no ordinary women and no ordinary paintings. They seem to reference a specific folklore, each painting like a page out of a book, but it's one of Loy's own creation. She mischievously leaves us trying to craft our own meaning and narratives from these mysterious images and their names (titles like "Humility" and "Comfort" provide contextual clues). It feels as if you're visually reading a book, one that's sometimes in a different language. More important to Loy than the meaning of these narratives, however, is the form — the color and composition of her paintings. And however strange, curious or befuddling they are, they are still a pleasure to look at. Loy paints with the rarely used casein, a water-soluble paint derived from milk that gives her canvases a surprisingly traditional look. The colors are muted and soft while at the same time incredibly rich. They are quite stunning to behold. Through March 2. 2242 Richmond. 713-520-9988. — MD
"Wilo Vargas: Hierophany and Pareidolia" What makes an image of a man no longer just a man, but Buddha? How do people see the visage of Jesus on bread or in a tree, and why is it such a big deal when they do? When does an elephant stop being an ordinary elephant, but a totem? These are some of the questions explored in Wilo Vargas's current show up at G Gallery, which also marks the Peruvian artist's Houston debut. The title, "Hierophany and Pareidolia," refers to two psychological states — one being the manifestation of the sacred in objects (hierophany), wherein objects are given significance or sacred meaning, the other being the act of unconsciously recognizing these objects (pareidolia) — for example, seeing Christ's face on a slice of toast. Vargas plays with these notions by using iconography in his paintings. There are images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Buddha and Christ, as well as totemic animals like elephants, eagles and lions. But the catch is that their likenesses aren't all that apparent at first. Like a gigantic "Magic Eye," you have to pull away from the paintings for these hidden images to become clear. It's an unnerving, exhilarating effect; just when you think you've seen all that you can, you're able to see the paintings in a whole new light that gives them a completely new meaning and resonance. These images within images are actually better seen through photograph of the paintings, funny enough. That's when they are best defined. Though of course these paintings are meant to be seen not through an iPhone screen but close up. Only then can you get a sense of the immense work Vargas puts into each of his massive paintings. The obsessive layering of his neon doodles, like a controlled, psychedelic Pollock, becomes almost textured. It's a technique apparently inspired by hallucinations the artist had following a spider bite. There were no spiders present in the paintings as far as I could tell, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. These works take time and patience to fully reveal themselves. Through February 24. 301 East 11th St., 713-869-4770. —MD
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