Capsule Art Reviews: "Late Surrealism," "The Ornamental Plumb Bob," "Unwoven Light," "Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)"
"Late Surrealism" Mark Rothko. Jackson Pollock. They're not the usual suspects you'd associate with Surrealism, but they're some of the biggest names in The Menil Collection's current show "Late Surrealism." Though they're known for their groundbreaking abstract work, as the Menil exhibition shows, pigeonholing artists can be tricky business. And during the 1930s and '40s, artists working in America were influenced by surrealists as the art capital shifted from Paris to New York. Curator Michelle White has pulled together 14 artists and 26 pieces from the museum's holdings for the compact show. There are paintings as well as collages, assemblages, works on paper and sculptures created during for the most part the '30s and '40s on display. All together, the works demonstrate what White describes as a "push-pull" between Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism. It's in the mysterious figures in one of Pollock's paintings — not one of his trademark splatter jobs, but one depicting animal-like monsters that are slightly nightmarish. Unnamed, this lack of any clue further adds to its mystery. This push-pull is also evident in Rothko's Red Abstract, a blood-red dreamscape composed of figures that resemble birds and a spade. Other works are strange and slightly goofy. Two Max Ernst sculptures — standing bronze pieces — both feature faces. In one, La plus belle (The Most Beautiful One), the eyes are slightly lopsided above a wide grin. In the other, Asperges de la lune (Lunar Asparagus), the face seems to be splintered — the eyes on one pole, the mouth on the other. Joan Miró's Oeuf (galant ovale) also depicts a face — this one curiously, humorously unhappy — on a ceramic piece made convincingly to look like a rock. There's more to admire — pieces that primarily explore the human body in ink and charcoal that are all experimental in form — in what's an eye-opening, fascinating show on a fascinating period. Through August 25. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — MD
"The Ornamental Plumb Bob" A plumb bob isn't something you'd usually see on display to admire. The typically acorn-shaped weight is used behind the scenes, by the likes of carpenters, architects and artists, to note the verticality of a surface. It's rarely seen as a work of art in and of itself. Gary Schott begs to differ, though. The San Antonio metalsmith has a new series on display in the solo show "The Ornamental Plumb Bob" at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft that asks you to admire the plumb bob for its aesthetic contributions. More than a dozen plumb-bob weights line the center's artist hall, suspended from the walls in between the artist studios. Historically, these weights have taken the form of anything from fruits and vegetables to nautical designs and the standard acorn. Schott favors the last, with weights that look like ice cream cones. They're painted bold colors and hang from decorative plaques of varying shapes, sizes and colors, like ornaments or earrings. Though they all serve the same purpose in the end, each one is unique. The cords the plumb bobs hang from also vary. Three weights in a row may hang at the same length, satisfyingly in sync, while others hang at different lengths, helping to highlight their differences. There's a rhythm and flow to the show, even if it's disrupted by the occasional door. The HCCC has a habit of exploring the functional versus the decorative purposes of items, and that doesn't get old. These tools are made with such precision and care, only to be used to make something else. But by giving plumb bobs their day in the sun, this exhibit lets you explore their simple beauty. Through July 27. 4848 Main, 713-529-4848. —MD
"Unwoven Light" Soo Sunny Park's installation at Rice Gallery is unapologetically pretty. It's a glistening, iridescent canopy of shimmering pinks, purples, blues, greens and yellows that resemble anything from a fish's scales to a spider's web wet with raindrops. Despite the apt comparisons, this creation is anything but organic. "Unwoven Light" is composed entirely of chain-link fence and coated Plexiglas that Park has exhaustingly shaped and welded together to create a network of abstract, bulbous shapes suspended from the ceiling. In fact, it took the artist and her assistants two weeks to make just one distinct unit — specifically, seven hours of welding to brace the fencing, 100 hours of tying the wire that holds each Plexiglas piece in place, and still more time cutting the Plexiglas shapes to fit into the chain-link cells. In all, there are 37 such units — 17 newly created for the installation and 20 recycled from a past work — that create patches of light throughout the gallery from floor to ceiling. However laborious its creation, "Unwoven Light" seems effortless, with light doing most of the work. Every step brings you a new combination of colors that reflect off the Plexiglas and bleed onto the walls and even the floor. There's no set path to follow, either, giving you the freedom to wander underneath and around the units in your own trance. There can be much to consider as you explore the work — about the properties of light and color, imposed boundaries and our perception of space — but it's also a pleasant experience that is, simply, joyful. Through August 30. 6100 Main, 713-348-6169. — MD
"Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)" In the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement, mizugiwa means the point where the water and plant meet. In English, that's better known as the shore or bank, but it doesn't seem nearly as poetic. In "Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)" at Catherine Couturier Gallery, Houston artist Libbie J. Masterson explores this concept through a series of photographs taken all over the world — though nowhere particularly distinguishable (these could be well-known bodies of water or random springs — it doesn't matter). This intersection has been an interest of Masterson's for years, before she even knew there was such a word for it, and it's easy to see why it has caught her eye. Her photographs are dramatic landscapes that have washed out most color in favor of blue tints and black-and-white contrasts that emphasize this dynamic. In the closely cropped Early Canal (3FJ5140), for instance, the vegetation is blacked out — trees and plant life are silhouettes against the white sky and the subtle ripples of the water. Still others favor a tint that turns everything, even the plant life, blue, united in the color. In Camargue (3FJ5072), for instance, both water and land exist in similar hues of bluish-green — they're on the same wavelength. Though it's the focus of her photographs, the water isn't always obvious and doesn't always seem to be the main subject. In Road St. Remy (3FJ4943), it's hidden and needs to be found among the dominant, massive trees and lush bushes. But it's always there, whether stretching gloriously across multiple prints, as in Loire River Triptych, or traveling endlessly towards the back of the frame, as in Chenonceau Canal, lit beautifully the whole way. Through August 31. 2635 Colquitt, 713-524-5070. — MD
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