Capsule Art Reviews: "The Big Show" "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" "Ideas Are Free" "Late Surrealism" "PRINTTX" "Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May" "Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)"
"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
"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
"Ideas Are Free" Highbrow meets lowbrow. That can be a glib yet effective way of describing the work of Jay Giroux — an artist with a background in skate and street culture who holds an MFA in painting from the University of Houston. The Brooklyn artist's first solo show at Devin Borden Gallery, titled "Ideas Are Free," explores that dynamic as he marries aspects of pop culture with high formalism. Indeed, the first piece you encounter, Skate Stopped Pedestal, is composed of a wooden pedestal topped by aluminum "skatestoppers" — brackets meant to deter skateboarders from skating on curbs or handrails by eliminating a smooth surface. It's as minimal as they come yet loaded with references. Beyond this sculpture, paintings make up the bulk of the show, and Giroux experiments with acrylic, wax, oil, enamel and color pencil in his colorful, layered works — some of which are just about color. The four squares C, M, Y and K compose a tetraptych that is based on the color model used in printing — cyan, magenta, yellow and key (or black) — and are arranged in a column. Collect all four! Other works aren't as neat. Monster Girls (Wax Atmosphere) and Monster Girls (Neon Lights) are messy, busy paintings that leave hints of what's below the surface — blond girls with sunglasses — as if it's a street advertisement layered in graffiti. Works like Stay Focused and Hard in the Paint follow in this loud street-art aesthetic — spray cans and all. But then you have something completely out of left field like Untitled (Target in Red, Yellow, and Blue) — a bruised, bullied canvas that has literal markings on it — gaping holes and punctures that are surrounded mostly by red, with hints of the title's yellow and blue. It's quite beautiful, in a quiet way. For all the attempts to nail him down, Giroux isn't content to do just one thing. Through August 3. 3917 Main, 713-256-0225. — MD
"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
"PRINTTX" By name alone, the Museum of Printing History may seem like the last place you'd find contemporary work in the print field. But among the permanent displays that chronicle the history of printing can be found impressive works that experiment with the form and subject matter. So it is with "PRINTTX," the first juried exhibition of contemporary Texas artists as part of PRINTHOUSTON 2013, a summer-long event celebrating both traditional and contemporary printmaking in the state. Peter S. Briggs, the Helen DeVitt Jones Curator of Art at the Museum of Texas Tech University, has pulled together 23 works of varying sizes and materials by 20 artists. Some of the more engaging pieces aren't what you'd think of when you consider prints. Ann Johnson's Sky's Nest is a sphere of intaglio and found objects suspended from the ceiling by a string. Inside this enclosed nest is, curiously, a faint, ghost-like image of a girl printed on feathers — it's obvious but at the same time unexpected. Orna Feinstein's The Fan is less mysterious. This sculptural wall piece consists of a blue and black monoprint on a plexi and metal part. The circular spots of color repeat the fan's shape over and over in circles themselves, making it all about the whirring motion of this geometric form. Among the more typical prints, Evan Leigh Rottet's photographic lithograph Trash? is a beautifully saturated piece that depicts a pile of garbage in great sepia tones, implying that these discarded items may still have value. Trash? indeed. Other prints have grander, more political implications. Jesus De La Rosa's lithograph Party Is Over is a bright pink piñata with bullets for ears and a look of what seems to be concern in its piñata eye. The small, bold print definitely catches your attention, but then keeps you as it makes a commentary on the "hidden nature of the US/Mexican war on illegal drugs," says the artist. There are plenty of these subtle details, including the button and shirt tag of Joëlle Verstraeten's cool blue monoprints, in a show that offers plenty to admire. Through September 14. 1324 W. Clay, 713-522-4652. —MD
"Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May" Peace signs and Mount Analogue. These two things have little in common, but to Emily Joyce, they serve the same purpose — as a seemingly endless source of inspiration. In "Some Tree Rings, a Vision, and the Third of May," now on view at Inman Gallery, the Los Angeles artist creates silk-screen prints that explore variations on abstract geometric shapes. The peace sign is one, though, like many of Joyce's influences, that may not be obvious. In the new silk-screen series "Third of May," wedges, arches and pie sections alternate in columns, almost dancing down the paper. The forms are all the same shapes and sizes, but the prints are all different colors, making for a nice optical effect. Another new silk-screen series from Joyce that explores continuity is "Tree Rings for Judith Pancake (Gold)." In four works, the artist almost attacks the cross-section of a gold and white tree trunk, adding daggers of color and even burning holes, or knots, onto the paper. The starting point for this series is, as the name implies, Judith Pancake, who provided the artwork for René Daumal's influential early-20th-century novel Mount Analogue. Joyce definitely experimented with these flat prints, giving each one its own character even though they all start out as concentric circles. The "vision" of the exhibition's title refers to a large print inspired by Piero della Francesca's Vision of Constantine, a largely blue work that plays on the tent in the 15th-century fresco through repeating triangular tent forms. This one is easy to miss — it's in the gallery's north viewing room — but worth seeking out. The references in these works are a tad random and largely obscure, which can cause a bit of a disconnect for the viewer. But even without knowing them, the colors and playful forms of Joyce's prints are enjoyable to behold. Through August 17. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800. — 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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