Capsule Art Reviews: "Pastmodern," "Shambhala"
"Pastmodern" The influences in Russell Prince's collages intriguingly range from the Cubists and Dadaists to tattered billboards, old textbooks, and his great-grandmother's deteriorating Victorian home. Indeed, the Houston artist's works have an aged quality to them, from the musty old book covers of classics like David Copperfield that he rips from their binds to the highly distressed, unique frames that keep it all together. It's as if they've been around for decades, collecting dust in a musty study somewhere, rather than all crafted within the past three years. "Pastmodern," the name of the self-taught artist's current show at Front Gallery, is quite apt. There are nearly 40 collages at your perusal, scattered salon-style on two walls and arranged on the shelves near the front room's fireplace. Stamps, old paintings, book covers and other indiscernible scraps come together onto postcards and canvas boards of varying sizes. The show, put together in collaboration with guest curator Jay Wehnert of Intuitive Eye, nicely plays with this variation in size, as the pieces get progressively bigger and then smaller again as you move through the show. As the name "Pastmodern" suggests, this is a serious show that still doesn't take itself too seriously. In Barrel of Monkeys, the collage prominently features scraps of paper curved like the plastic monkey pieces in the children's game in an unexpected, charming reference. The best works are the smaller ones on postcard like Barrel of Monkeys, which gel despite their randomness. The bigger they get, the less control they have and the proportions don't quite work at that size. Prince is a neighbor of Front Gallery owner Sharon Engelstein, making this an extremely local show. It's also the artist's first solo show. His collages remind me of ones by another Houston artist who recently had his debut — designer Jerry Jeanmard — but without the lovely white space of Jeanmard's. Something must be in the water. Through June 1. 1412 Bonnie Brae. 713-298-4750. —MD
"Shambhala" Shambhala is a Sanskrit word meaning a place of peace, happiness or tranquility. In the Buddhist tradition, it is paradise. It is also a meditation technique and, tellingly, the name of Paul Fleming's latest exhibition at Barbara Davis Gallery. In "Shambhala," Fleming fills the gallery with bright, sleek color as he creates wall installations composed of identically shaped resin-filled objects arranged in straight lines and subtle patterns. The main body of work is All my friends are here, which takes over the first half of the gallery across every available surface. Repeating blocks of pigmented resin are arranged in single file across the walls like some broken code of color samples, available in every color of the crayon box. Other installations sprawl across the wall in a controlled chaos. Fractured From the Fall is a massive piece that strikes the back wall, straight strips of hydrocol and resin crossing each other like a broken rainbow. Other pieces aren't as neat and exact. In Papillae, red-tipped cones disperse from a center, while Our Nature features blue objects that climb up the wall and onto the ceiling, like ornate thumbtacks mapping population demographics or the spread of a disease. Still other pieces emphasize connectivity, with each part making up a tightly wound whole as in These Subtle Agencies II, a punishing square made up of countless blue, green and purple pieces arranged in a flowing pattern. Between these tight grids and the loose, pixelated wall installations, there can be a lot of white space, and it all makes for a somewhat sparse show. There's not too much going on here for deep contemplation, just a lot of eye candy. Through June 1. 4411 Montrose. 713-520-9200. —MD
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