Capsule Art Reviews: "Kyle Farley: Countenance," "Perry House: Elegance/Violence," "Rita Bernstein: Out of Place," "UNIT," "Woven Landscapes"
"Kyle Farley: Countenance" Most of the eight works by Kyle Farley in this show are lit, either by a source within, by small bulbs on the surface or, as is the case in one piece, by a red spotlight attached to the work. But it's one of the more straightforward pieces that features the strongest imagery. In Untitled (Navajo Swastikas), there are no lights or complex parts, just the black-and-white image of a basketball team digitally printed on wooden boards seemingly ripped from an old basketball court. On their uniforms, the players sport swastikas. But these aren't German Nazis. They're Navajos, circa 1909, photographed before the swastika was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi party. It's a powerful photo, made all the more so by Farley's composition and materials. The ancient symbol is seen again in Swastika Ball. Here, Farley uses a light box and a photograph of a group of children performing the Nazi salute. This scene is not in Germany, either, but Milwaukee during the mid-1930s. One half of the photo is clearly manipulated, as the children are stiffly raising their left arms instead of their right. The 80-year-old image is subversively undermined thanks to some modern-day photo technology. They're big pieces — Farley showed up with 30 works for the show, and the modest Redbud Gallery was able to fit only eight — with big, if also a bit perplexing, ideas. Here's this good ol' boy from Cleburne, Texas, digging up forgotten Nazi paraphernalia. But shock value seems to be only part of it. Other works feature images of the Nazis' base in Antarctica, Vladimir Putin, the American eagle, rockets and oil fields. They're all symbols of power that Farley's managed to diminish. Nothing is off limits here. Through August 27. 303 E. 11th St., 713-862-2532. — MD
"Perry House: Elegance/Violence" Perry House is all about opposites — he strives to create images that are beautiful and disturbing, elegant and violent, exploring construction and destruction, bordering realism and abstraction, and walking the line between "horror and humor," as he says. His giant retrospective at the Art Car Museum spans House's 30-plus years of painting. It includes several of his most recognizable series — the most well-known being his surrealist Southern Dinner Series, composed of amoebic, loudly patterned plates that bend around the edges like bedpans and are set against loudly patterned backdrops of fish and flowers. This series is barely ten years old, but already House has moved way past his distorted Fiestaware and returned full circle to a preoccupation of his earlier in his career — landscapes, which are all noted by a mysterious date (2.20.11, 6.3.11 and so on). These are not the overwrought, wreckage-filled landscapes of his Aftermath Series but something more abstract — two-dimensional cityscapes. In an age of 3-D everything, there's something disconcerting, and arresting, about their flatness. With a 1980s graffiti vibe (must be all that neon), they're disjointed and distorted. House has said he doesn't think too much about color when he paints, but these recent paintings have such a strong sense of pigment that you may easily refer to them as the blue one or the red one. Meanwhile, his black-and-white ink drawings, wherein he essentially forgoes a palette altogether, are especially alluring. Through September 2. 140 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5526. — MD
"Rita Bernstein: Out of Place" Painterly photographs never seem to lose their appeal — there's a reason there are multiple apps that specialize in turning your boring old photographs into neatly framed, beautiful works of art. Rita Bernstein achieves a similar effect in her work, but rather than pushing a button, the Philadelphia photographer spends hours in and out of the darkroom, brushing silver emulsion onto Japanese gampi, or applying beeswax and oil paint to handmade paper. The nearly two-dozen works in "Out of Place," her solo show at John Cleary Gallery, are mostly black-and-white, with unclean edges and square shapes, like some sort of self-made Instagram filter. The size of the images — the biggest are still only a foot square — also adds to their intimacy. Like any stranger's Instagram collection, these images are also highly personal, framed snapshots of the artist's life. They're unstaged, organic images of her friends and family, taken almost slyly — as in the teenage girl lying down on a bed, face turned away from the viewer, her mess of curly hair tumbling down, in Joanna, Age 16. There's also a rawness to Bernstein's photographs in their framing that is enhanced by the materials and process. The paper's edges are uneven, the image unfinished or broken where the silver emulsion wasn't brushed on all the way. The paper itself is uneven, with the image riding slight ridges. This fragility adds to the vulnerability of the subjects. The works with beeswax and oil paint, that vintage tradition of encaustic painting, take on a more haunting quality, their subjects seeming more like apparitions. They're black shadows at the end of a staircase, a silhouetted couple walking in a landscape, and a woman standing in front of a mirror, looking off somewhere we can't see. Filters may be all about making works beautiful, but they often leave you quickly moving on to the next one. These images stay with you long after you've viewed them. Through July 31. 2635 Colquitt St., 713-524-5070. — MD
"UNIT" Well, right now you can see more than 30 prints and editions from the online UNIT art shop in person in a new show at Gallery Sonja Roesch. It's a fitting location — UNIT is run by Houston artist Ariane Roesch, whose mother, Sonja, founded the gallery. It's the first of an annual summer show featuring works available on the site that include handmade limited-edition prints, products and publications. A quick run of the place introduces you to Cody Ledvina's Crawdad Ledvina EXPERIENCE, a display of DVD cases that tell a story through the covers (the video itself will be screened at the end of the exhibition's run); Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand's Stuffed, a pillow case printed with the photograph of an intimidating ball of possessions; and Myke Venable's 12 tins, a line of black, diamond-shaped tins descending from the ceiling, attached to the wall with magnets. There are plenty of memorable prints, too; standouts include Gissette Padilla's Malicious Compliance, a "passive aggressive" lithography inspired by comic-book drawings; Mark Ponder's Cope, Not Hope series — ink drawings featuring overused, positive words like "wonderful" and "great" in a childlike bubble font surrounded by balloons and hearts, the dead, deflated balloons suggesting something darker; and Kim Huynh's Keystone Project Alberta, a photo-intaglio that has the word "pipeline" hole-punched into the print as if literally poking holes in the Alberta-Nebraska pipeline project. Lewis Mauk also is a prominent artist in the gallery with works from a recent series that speaks to his hoarding tendencies, including three photo-lithographs of decades-old marijuana baggies, ready to pop, and two Warhol-esque silk screens of larger-than-life used toothbrushes. Through August 25. 2309 Caroline, 713-659-5424. — MD
"Woven Landscapes" In this mesmerizing new show of Austin artist Bethany Johnson's work at Moody Gallery, one of the "landscapes" in question features rolling clouds across a vast horizon. The image, called Horizont II, is the result of rows of horizontal lines — each line itself made up of tiny dashes. It makes for a modern digital effect, as if this were a bad printout of a scan. The image is not revealing in any way — this could be a rural plain anywhere. Except it's not a plain at all. The image is taken from a photograph of a line in the road, cracked by wear and resembling, from a certain perspective, tumultuous clouds. In this piece and others in her solo show, Johnson cleverly plays with the intersection of nature, scale and human interaction. All of the pieces are composed of these meticulously placed dashes that you have to get up close to see. The lines run horizontal, vertical or both, in grids of blues, greens and reds that vibrate against each other, they're so close. As the name "Woven Landscapes" seems to suggest, there's a strong sense of craft. The methodical process used in creating these landscapes is very hands-on. Though they look like computer-generated images, they are the result of hours of mechanical labor. Some of these ink drawings are inspired by images of actual landscapes — vast skies and rural stretches seen during the artist's residency in Germany last year. Others, like the Horizont series, play with your sense of perception by creating an immense scene out of a tiny section of road or, in other cases, a close-up of a tree. Even in the smallest detail, you can find depth. Through August 18. 2815 Colquitt St., 713-526-9911. — MD
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