Capsule Art Reviews: "The Beauty Box," "Dining In: An Artful Experience," "Funnel Tunnel," "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "Impressions | Abstractions," "Summer Studios 2013"

"The Beauty Box" This is the brainchild of local mixed-media artist Robert Hodge, who, with partner Philip Pyle, a sculptor and digital artist, has converted an open-air space in the Third Ward into a replica of a living room, like "your grandmother's living room or dining room," says Hodge. The front door, located on Dowling Street, opens into a cozy home setting. A wooden dining table with two antique chairs upholstered in deep burgundy fabric greets you. A golden clock glows against red wallpaper. On the floor sits a 1970s Quasar television; above it, pictures of anonymous family members. On the top shelf of a wooden case sits a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta; farther down, a portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Jackie. About halfway through, that red wallpaper changes to blue, with a white couch seated between the two. A lamp glows. A chair sits. A mirror reflects. A Houston native and Third Ward resident, Hodge chose to create "The Beauty Box" as a way to connect with the community's rich past. Starting in the 1930s, the Third Ward became the pre-eminent neighborhood for affluent and aspiring African-Americans. After the oil bust of the 1980s, however, the economy of the area declined, families moved out, and a culture of drugs and homelessness moved in. The space that now houses "The Beauty Box" became a Third Ward eyesore, an empty lot filled with weeds and weed, emblematic of a neighborhood in decline and used, according to Hodge, "as a public restroom." Starting on July 5, the pair spent three days clearing the lot, mowing overgrown grass, tossing out used needles, and removing human and animal feces. About once a week, Hodge and Pyle clean the installation regularly, faithfully, hoping "The Beauty Box" will inspire a reversion to the Third Ward of yesteryear, a time when "painting your house, picking up trash, not drinking a 40 and then throwing it on the ground" was the norm. "I want this to mean a sense of pride," Hodge said. Until September 30. 3902 Dowling, 713-820-0520. — AO

"Dining In: An Artful Experience" This juried exhibition, on view at 18 Hands Gallery, features art that you eat with. Gallery co-owner Betsy Evans explains that these pieces are multifunctional, for use as decoration or on a dining-room table. However, a close inspection agrees more with the first option. While there are a few functional pieces, most of the exhibit's works are better suited for hanging on a wall. Take, for instance, Angela Stickels's Self Portrait platter, a Picasso-inspired creation of lips, lids and leaves. Stickels slices her face in two and places each side on opposite ends of the platter. Heavy makeup accents her eyes and lips. Just imagining a two-year-old splattering his spaghetti and meatballs all over this work of art is enough to induce hot flashes. And though her Celebrate Everything cake stand proudly bears the image of a cupcake with pink frosting, it's too pretty to be covered, even by Aunt Gertrude's blue-ribbon angel food cake. Daryl McCracken's The Blue Hole is a plate that also doesn't deserve to be covered and demands respect. It starts out light blue at the edges, swirling into a vortex of darker and darker hues of blue, until in the middle, a pool of Bermuda blue waits to suck you in. The effect is both pretty and otherwordly; the varying blues recall the Earth's horizon. Jan Dreskin-Hais's Plate of white, coral and black repeating triangles is just as hypnotizing, the shapes repeating themselves all over the plate. Who in his right mind would cover these with Hamburger Helper? If you must make function of fine art, the exhibition's drinkware might stand a chance. Though pretty like their plate partners, these cups, teakettles and mugs are more convenient, since what's ingested hides inside and it's the outside that counts. Caleb Zouhary's Black & White Soy Sauce set is architecturally stunning. The tiny teacup and pot set settle into a seashell holder, the whole of which is polished with a bright cherrywood glaze. Naoko Teruya's Condiment Set, which won Best of Show, features four pieces — two ceramic pots, a salt shaker and a pepper shaker — in shades of ashen coal and burnt coral. The pots stand side by side, spouts extended upward, like two soldiers at attention. Mary Linda Lewis's Florida Memories pitchers are embellished with leaves and lemons, primed and ready to pour cold lemonade. This is 18 Hands's sixth annual "Dining In" experience, according to Evans. She operates the gallery with Karen Cruce and Katy McKinin. All three women are ceramic artists, and the majority of artists featured in the gallery practice ceramics, as well. There are a few fiber and jewelry artists thrown into the mix, but the purpose of 18 Hands is "to expose Houston to a larger range of ceramic artists," says Evans. To wit, there are 40 of them featured in this exhibition. Through September 1. 249-B West 19th, 713-869-3099. — AO

"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

"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," donated to the museum by Wilson after her death, is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

"Impressions | Abstractions" "Impressions | Abstractions," which opened at Sicardi Gallery, showcases the work of 20th-century Latin American artists Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús-Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc, Luis Tomasello, Sérvulo Esmeraldo, León Ferrari and Gego. The works of the seven artists make clear the distinctions in printmaking, from color to technique. In comparing Cruz-Diez, Soto and Tomasello, it's possible to make an argument for why printmaking is such a versatile medium. Cruz-Diez and Soto are Venezuelan artists who both studied at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Aplicadas and were early adopters of the kinetic art movement. Because of this, their art is similar; striped horizontal and vertical lines make up the crux of their respective works. However, while Soto's lines move up and down black-and-gray sculptures (Escriture), Cruz-Diez is more liberal with color. Usually a serigraph is a process in which an image is stenciled into a mesh screen. Ink is applied to the part of the screen not covered by the stencil, which is then squeezed through, creating a superimposed image. Cruz-Diez's process is unique in that he combines silk screen and lithography with digital printing. The result is a work boasting 50 shades of color, as in the translucent rainbows of Induction chromatique à double fréquence, (1990). The piece is a pigment chromagraphy on Plexiglas, a process that allows color to bleed and blend, so that what begins as blue and orange mixes, turning the top into a striking rainbow of colors. Tomasello, on the other hand, produces "lithographs," in which ink is placed onto a stone or metal surface, then followed by a sheet of paper that removes the ink from the stone, creating the image. His pieces have white backgrounds with blushes of color applied in strategic positions. Atmosphère Chromoplastique No. 914 (2009), an acrylic-on-wood piece, is divided into squares created by four horizontal or vertical lines. The vertical-line squares have a green tint, causing them to stick out more, heightening the acrylic piece. The lines in Cruz-Diez and Soto's kinetic pieces are also present in Tomasello's, revealing that even though each printmaker's work is different and special in its own way, the repeated, recognizable themes of lines, dots, pictures and other types of imagery are what makes the practice of printmaking so interesting. Through August 31. 1508 W. Alabama, 713-529-1313. — AO

"Summer Studios 2013" Project Row Houses' "Summer Studios 2013" exhibition opened with a hotter than hot mid-August reception that showcased seven artistically transformed row houses — six filled with the art of individual undergraduate art students and one completed by a group, Rice University's Houston Action Research Team (HART). The houses couldn't be more different from each other — in content and execution. Maggie Hooyman's "Sharing, Understanding and Expanding" is perhaps the least artistically strenuous of the seven but the most inclusive. Markers, paintbrushes and bottles of paint are set up throughout the house. A sweet little note invites viewers to grab a bottle, a brush or a marker and decorate at will. The final product is a rainbow of colors and shapes splayed freely throughout, with positive phrases like "Peace, Hope, Faith" written on walls. Another dynamic art house is Byron Harris's "Hammocks and Music Boxes," a work that disproves economist John Maynard Keynes's prediction that in the future, Americans will enjoy the luxury of a "15-hour working week." Visualizing this involves the use of various pieces of colored string hung throughout the house. The most telling strings are the ones laced throughout a wooden bed frame. Bed frames are usually reinforced with strong wire that mattresses, and ultimately people, rest on. By replacing the wire with string, Harris proves the argument that the bed and, by extension, leisure have become obsolete. Jessie Anderson's "House," at 2509 Holman, is a literally grassroots work. The artist collected found objects, located "within a 15-block radius of this spot," and placed each on the walls of her art house. By doing this, Anderson created a tribute to the natural community of Third Ward. This is equally celebratory and depressing: That these castaway pieces are so easily found in the community reveals an apathetic habit of haphazardly throwing items into lots, yards and streets. "House," then, is a metaphor for Third Ward. Pollution crowds the streets; there is still work to be done. Aldo Rodan's "The Struggle Continues: a Depiction of Mexican Dreams and Hopes," at 2511 Holman, depicts four "dead" bodies: three on the floor and the fourth hanging by toes from the ceiling. The scene, Rodan says, reveals the horror of Mexican drug cartels and the innocents caught in the crossfire. Rodan created the bodies by covering mannequins in a substance he calls "fabric stiffener" and cloaking each with a gray sheet. Haunting. Through September 8. 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662. — AO


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