The organizers behind "Go West I" use phrases like "bridging worlds," "bilateral exhibit" and "stimulating dialogue" to make you want to go to a new show of contemporary art from Parisian and Texan artists. It's a gimmick -- all shows can be, on some level, as a result of their framing or theme -- but it's one that doesn't interest us much.
In fact, during the opening for "Go West" on Thursday, during which gallery-goers (who had ponied up $80 for a ticket) munched on catered food and sipped champagne, we almost immediately stopped checking where the artists were from. Because in the end, it didn't really matter. Few of the submissions referenced place or culture that we could tell, leaving little need for that context.
As group shows tend to go, this one's all over the map (pun not intended). There are 64 artists (equally split between Paris and Texas, if you're counting), including such Houston all-stars as The Art Guys, David McGee and Helen Altman, sprawled out from one end of the Williams Tower in the Galleria to the other. That's important to remember -- you could easily miss half the art by simply not realizing you need to walk through to the other side of the lobby.
One artist in particular throws out any notions of place. Matthew Grabelsky is a New York native who studied art, art history and, of all things, astrophysics, here at Rice University. Since graduating in 2001, he's bounced around New York, Italy and France (though for all intents and purposes, he was labeled as a French artist in the show). We'd love to gaze at a whole show of his stunning work -- the artist has a thing for classical paintings, and it shows. His submission, "Alexandra and Mr. Guar," is an absolutely gorgeous oil painting of a man and woman on a New York City subway -- except the man has the head of a bull. It's as realistic as a photograph, but with those soft, classical colors. You almost don't realize something is amiss with that bull head, it's painted so straightforwardly and with such technical skill.
"I'm interested in classical mythology in paintings -- even if you don't know the story, you can create your own idea," said Grabelsky. "I create mythological elements and leave it open for viewers."
Another artist who played with notions of mythology was Rahul Mitra. His "Street Prophet" acrylic featured an Indian street scene, comprised of masked men and women in an unguided comic book-like narrative.
"Houston's a mix of everything," said Mitra, an India native who's lived in Houston for 15 years. "I wanted to bring my culture here."
There also were some nice photographic elements. Francois Lartigue's "Rue de Fourcy" is a puzzle. It's a dated-looking photo of an elderly couple walking down the street, but with modern graffiti curiously on the facing wall, including prominently a third "woman" -- a black silhouette -- looking over them like a ghost. Also of note was Fernand Percival's "Sens/Censure," which, simply, is a woman lying under a cream-white sheet, but the waves formed by her pose are mesmerizing. The movement also creates a neat 3-D effect.
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Arnaud Prinstet's self-portrait was also intriguing. A more laborious version of this much-viewed video, Prinstet paints a portrait of himself every day, allowing his technique and style to change over time, even if he doesn't much, but always employing the same oranges, reds and yellows. As it goes, he's gotten more childlike over recent drawings, thanks to those big eyes and lack of definition -- like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" meets "The Picture of Dorian Gray."
As a whole, most of the art wasn't too memorable -- with 64 artists, the show could have been more serviceable had it whittled down the number of participants. The second half felt crowded, especially given that some pieces were awkwardly crammed behind the lobby's columns. We didn't care much for its Paris-Texas construct either, but there were a couple moments where we did notice it. Karine Parker-Lemoyne, a Parisian-turned-Houstonian who conceived of the show, included "Texas-The New Departure," a painting of a galloping horse, which may make you think of cowboys, which then may make you think of Texas. Also, Romain Froquet's "Reminiscence" looked like an abstract Lady Liberty, with the requisite reds, whites and blues (the colors of both France's and the United States' flags, as it were) and blazing torch in the background. It's an apt symbol for such a show -- it was France's gift to us, after all, the ultimate symbolic bridge.
"Go West I" runs now through November 25 at Williams Tower Gallery, 2800 Post Oak Boulevard. For more information, visit http://www.gowest-francetexas.com.