Capsule Art Reviews: "The Big Show," "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know," "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," "Late Surrealism"
"The Big Show" "The Big Show" is Lawndale Art Center's annual juried exhibition. The gallery drip-drops with life this year; though there is no set theme to Lawndale's "Big Show" exhibitions, many of the works are figurative pieces. Bryan Forrester's photograph Imogene C-Print shows a naked man and woman in a kitchen, their bodies fully exposed to the camera lens. The man has just finished throwing up all over the floor, and his gut chunks, like his rear end, face the camera dead-on. Maybe the photo's raw edge is what lifted Forrester over the other entrants to win one of three $1,000 awards, along with artists Avril Falgout and Perry Chandler. Kay Sarver's subject is naked as well, only her Pollinate Me transforms the beehive into a pregnant woman, surrounded by bees and sunflowers. Her swollen belly looks like a honeycomb. Though the subject of Pollinate Me is naked, she sits daintily, hiding her lower regions. Where Forrester's subject is explicit, Sarver's is sweet. JooYoung Choi takes figurative art to multiple levels; Sacrifice of Putt-Putt depicts several images of a woman — Putt-Putt — in multiple states of emotion, from elation to ennui. This year, the gallery received 922 pieces from 366 artists. The juror was Duncan MacKenzie, a Chicagoan and co-founder of Bad at Sports, a weekly art podcast, who whittled the submissions down to 83 works by 67 artists. Through August 10. 4912 Main, 713-528-5858. — AO
"Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" In our time, there may be no art form more divisive than street art. For decades, the public has debated the merits of the genre — from the criminality of the act to the skill and creativity involved. The Station Museum of Contemporary Art enters this debate with "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" — a massive show featuring 21 artists known for their work across Houston doing their thing right on the museum's walls. It's a busy exhibit, from the big wall pieces by Ack! and Eyesore to a whole room devoted to impressive portraits by Lee Washington. Given the number of artists, there are a variety of topics, too, including a powerful cityscape by Wiley Robertson and Bryan Cope across the street on the gas station; Vizie's overpowering memorial graffiti artist NEKST; the mysticism of Angel Quesada's Aura Rising; and overtly politically charged works by Anat Ronen, Deck WGF, Michael C. Rodriguez and Empire I.N.S. that touch on drone warfare, war mentality and civil liberty. Despite the open title, the Station Museum is pretty firm on where it stands. The introduction to the show observes that the work is "street art that has become fine art," an "important new contribution to contemporary art in Houston." This is never more true than in the work of Daniel Anguilu. The graffiti artist has tagged much of Midtown, but rather than be derided, he is celebrated by none other than the city itself; recently, the artist was proudly outed by Metro as being none other than a Metro employee. Here, half of the artist's contribution is actually leftovers from the museum's last big show. He's expanded on it for a work that stretches nearly around the whole room with its colorful abstract, Aztec-esque design, which prompted one gallery-goer to exclaim, "I want to live in here!" on a recent visit. While Anguilu is a celebrated public figure, some of his colleagues prefer anonymity. This is evident from a video by KC Ortiz of graffiti artists in action. Most faces are blurred or obscured — a reminder that there can be consequences for this form of expression. Whether you agree that it's fine art or not, one thing is for certain — street art is fleeting. Given their disposable nature, these murals are pure expression — refreshingly done for the sake of it, and not for a potential sale. Whereas most public graffiti art pieces can be covered up at any time, these at least have an expiration date — the show is up until August 25, at which point the walls will be painted over and revert to white. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. —MD
"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
"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
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