Capsule Art Reviews: May 29, 2014

"Ann Harithas: Memory" is the first exhibition of this artist after she recovered completely from what may have been a stroke last year, in which her memory and ability to recognize old friends were damaged. Harithas began reviewing old photographs, and her faculties and memory were restored. She works with digital image montages, and Memory Lane has two Asian men staring with interest at an off-canvas event, while a female child over the head of one looks directly ahead — is this a separate image, or is it the thought of the Asian, double-tasking? High School Prom has a photograph of a fresh-faced girl, innocent but expectant. What at first seems like a beret turns out to be a coiled rattlesnake, as sharks circle below. There is a medicine man, but can he protect her? A separate set of lips, heavily cosmeticized, suggests that sophistication lies in wait, whether Dad wants it or not. Dreams I Remember has a young girl reading peaceably by a window, with the scene covered with what seems to be a transparent, filmy fabric, except that it is instead an impression of brainwaves, and 16 globes circle her — these are brain scans. The work is complex, with emotional power. Brain Game is a large triple-image work of a young girl seated, with subtle variations. On the right she is on a ceramic seat, but in the middle and on the left, the seat is an open container. A picture of a brain on the right serves as her skirt, as her head in the middle and perhaps as a chandelier on the left. The contrast between the brain, the heavily patterned container and a stark brick wall adds a rich choice of textures. Through May 31. D.M. Allison Gallery, 2709 Colquitt, 832-607-4378, — JJT

"Funnel Tunnel" Clunky, streaked wood and wiry metal are the last things one would consider using to celebrate Art League Houston and the colorful Montrose neighborhood that surrounds it. Then again, talent is as talent does, and bare-bones as they may be, Patrick Renner's pieces are feats of size and color. Bounded Operator (2012) is a wall of windows glued together and filled with sand, rock and gravel, mingled with pieces of wood splashed in tie-dye, exchanging its windowpane aesthetic for a swirling metal one. The rainbow brightness of Wooddauber (2012) is one of many rainbow-colored chunks of wood from Renner's "Vestigial Structures" show exhibited last year at Avis Frank Gallery. The two pieces are combined to create "Funnel Tunnel," a metal-on-wood masterpiece so big that Art League publicly called on volunteers to help paint the wooden strips in the weeks before its opening. Before then, Renner could be seen blowtorching metal pieces together to create a wiry foundation for the wooden strips to attach to. It would, however, be inaccurate to describe "Funnel Tunnel" as skeletal. While other Renner pieces may come off as hollow, the wood and metal in "Funnel Tunnel" work together to create an artwork representative of the inclusive nature of the area around it. Those wooden strips? Painted in the hues of the rainbow, they very accurately represent the diverse people, businesses and culture of Montrose. The metal? Permanently melded together to hold the rainbow strips of wood, it represents the collectivity of this community. These materials create a 180-foot civic art sculpture seen whirling down the center of Montrose Boulevard. "Funnel Tunnel" will be on display in front of Art League Houston for the next nine months. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

"The Inner Marilyn" Public fascination with Marilyn Monroe continues — the iconography of her image earned $27 million last year. The Jung Center has created a fascinating exhibition, curated from The Babydoll Museum, the private collection of Marie Taylor Bosarge, featuring Marilyn Monroe's personal artifacts, costumes and personal effects. The exhibition captures Monroe's magnetic power and her capacity to project a variety of personalities in photo shoots and films. Bert Stern photographed her in 1962, shortly before her death, and these colored photographs leap off the wall. In one, her hair is disheveled, covering her right eye, but the heavy-lidded left eye is enough to let us see why David fell for Bathsheba. There are photographs of Monroe when she was still a brunette; these capture a youthful openness and sweetness. In her last photo shoot, she exudes such joy and zest for life that it's difficult to believe she took her own life, as is surmised. One dress on display is full-length, gold and red, worn by Betty Grable in a film, and modified to add a train when worn by Monroe in River of No Return. These garments document her hourglass figure, as do the photographs of the nude bathing scene in Something's Got to Give — her physical beauty may take your breath away. There is a carved wooden chair with the upholstery punctured by Monroe's heel. A picture of her on this chair is an anchor, reminding us that though she has become a goddess, she once was as human as you and I. Through June 10. 5200 Montrose, 713- 524-8253, — JJT


Upcoming Events

"Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher: Trailer" The installation at McClain Gallery is by two collaborative Texan artists, Jeff Shore (Houston) and Jon Fisher (Dripping Springs). They have worked together since 2002, and this is their second solo show in Houston. This offering is kinetic, with much of the movement on film. A visitor pushes a small red button and a film appears, close to sepia in tone, suggesting days past, a simpler life; nostalgia seeps in. A series of images flickers onto a large screen on one wall. Large wooden semaphores unfold on film, as though a flower. An exercise bike turns, resembling an ancient spinning wheel, or the wheel to a prairie wagon. Human beings are absent — this is a tour of a museum of the mind, with no interpreter except you. A trailer, nestled in the woods, appears — old-style, small, silvery, devoid of luxury. Inside, four stools with no backs, as in an ice cream parlor, now empty, but one senses they once were filled with teenagers chattering away, eager to gossip and flirt, ordering vanilla Cokes. Drumsticks on automatic players beat tattoos on drums, retreat, re-emerge later. A paper lantern expands and contracts repeatedly, like an accordion, another repetitive image. The camera moves, but we, observing, are motionless. Echoes of circuses invade the mind. There is a big finish, as suddenly other walls come alive with pulsing images, and we are inundated, a tide of impressions sweeping us along with them. The images fade, the music dies, the flower closes and it is over. It lasts just 12 minutes, but it could be a lifetime. See it for yourself, and create your own narrative. Through May 31. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. — JJT

"Jim Seigler: My Life With the Circus" Jim Seigler began designing for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the early 1950s. He designed sets, floats and costumes, but there's much more — Seigler is also an accomplished ceramicist and a sensitive portrait artist. Hyde Park Gallery presents "Jim Seigler: My Life With the Circus," documenting Seigler's range of talents in its cavernous spaces. Seigler graduated from The Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida, which developed in him an affinity for vivid colors and dynamic figures. A notable exception is three charcoal portraits from 1949, which offer compelling glimpses of lives fully led and indicate a sympathetic bonding with humanity, in all its frailty. There are sketches of spectacular pageantry, revealing an intriguing grace that approaches elegance. Some works are solitary sketches for garments, but Seigler shapes them to life, showing the wearer as well as the garment. There are clowns and ringmasters galore, and girls riding elephants, and a Harem Girl sketch for a pageant that reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley's work. Elephants on Parade is elaborate in wit, with the elephant wearing a hat with nine large globes and the rider wearing a cape with a huge train. There are brightly colored ceramic sculptures, often of clowns with witty, exaggerated hats; these are delightful. Come see this most colorful and engaging exhibition. Through June 21. 115 Hyde Park, 713-524-6913, — JJT

"Karin Broker: damn girls" From a distance, the huge flowers drawn by Karin Broker, some 8'x5', seem merely decorative, though powerful in their stark simplicity; it is only on a closer approach that the background is seen to be filled with the names of women, painstakingly handwritten, hundreds of them. The result is a linkage between the insignificance of a single signature and the impact when grouped together. And above this mute testimony towers a symbol of beauty, sometimes a single amaryllis, or a cluster of flowers, themselves a symbol of dominance, but destined to die and decay. Seven of these tall flowers come with a leather-bound book that lists the names and brief biographical data of women who have intrigued the artist, some of them historical figures and some virtually unknown. There are also five much smaller monoprint collages, in which color is introduced, though in muted earth-tones. Broker also shows three steel pieces of furniture, each one heavily etched with engravings. Two are benches, recounting incidents, confrontations and love affairs, including illustrations of some of the men involved. One is titled Taking Self and one I/Eye Gone, with the inscription 'What does he need? What does he want?" echoing Freud's query about women. Some anecdotes suggest a rich sexual life; this furniture art pulses with vitality. The third piece, too hot, too cold, has a steel dining-room table and six steel chairs that match, though the engravings on each are different. These have a formal quality, a simple elegance that is beautiful. Here is a strongly involved artist who knows her own mind and reflects it with skill and decisiveness. Through May 31. McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988, — JJT


"Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938" John and Dominique de Menil were friends with many of the prominent art figures of their day, including the modern painter René Magritte. As a result of their patronage, The Menil Collection holds the most elaborate repository of Magritte's paintings outside of his native Belgium. In many ways, the images of Magritte are just as much a part of pop culture as they are art history. Even if you've never set foot inside a museum, chances are you've seen the raining men of Golconde (1953) or the word/image play of The Empty Mask (1952). In an effort to bring audiences into a more intimate knowledge of Magritte's fascinating Surrealist landscapes and critiques of tangible reality, the Menil has joined the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art to create "Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938," an exploration that examines the early work of his career and identifies the Surrealist experiments that would mark the masterpieces of his later career. I don't normally associate Magritte's paintings with warmth of any kind, but the 80 items in the catalog have been arranged so that they hint at the human impulses behind the iconic, if austere, genius. The years before World War II marked Magritte's development as an artist, and it's on these walls that the Menil's patrons can see the first of his important forays into Surrealism, such as 1927's Entr'acte, in which an assortment of limbs climb out of a darkened landscape, or Discovery, in which the skin of a female nude appears to be made of wood. The exhibition's careful arrangement gives plenty of opportunity to examine less familiar works, especially those making a visit from outside the country. I was previously unaware of Attempting the Impossible, but found myself fascinated by Magritte's representation of the creation process. In the painting, Magritte configures a self-portrait of sorts, which sees his stand-in rendering a naked woman. It's a comical bit, a suggestion that art is not a reflection of reality, but perhaps the artist is the ultimate prime mover of what is real and what isn't. Much of the appeal of this exhibition is in its sheer ambition. One of the highlights has to be the gathering on one wall of The Eternally Obvious, The Depths of the Earth and Celestial Perfections. These are three paintings, but not simply three canvases. Each work is a cluster of canvases that reveal a fragmented image. One is a female nude, another is a landscape and the third is a sky full of clouds. Each canvas is a shard of a larger image, but in turn each canvas is a window into its own world. The Menil exhibition is the first time the three works have been displayed together since their creation in 1930. Together they are a powerful assessment of the modern world and a human condition that is no longer a solid whole but a splintered existence. With so many of these paintings that turn reality on its head in such close proximity to one another, the exhibition allows for an endless stream of contemplation of what in our everyday life is real and what is simply imagined. "The Mystery of the Ordinary" is a must-see exhibition for its close and caring attention to detail of Magritte's progression as an artist and its insight into a shifting world of the past. Through June 1. 1533 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400. — AC

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