Forty and Not So Fabulous
For a gallery that consistently delivers compelling shows and boasts a stable of heavy-hitting artists, Texas Gallery's 40th birthday party should arrive as a spectacle of works representative of its reputation. Instead, the gallery delivers a sprawling, unfocused and even boring mess of a show that feels more like closet-cleaning than celebration.
This show, titled simply "40," features work by 40 artists, all women, which suggests a second 40th-anniversary exhibition may be in the works, with an all-male cast. If this is indeed the case, I'm confused why the gallery would make such a decision. There simply isn't enough strong work on display to warrant it. The venue obviously isn't up to the task, either. The installation and accompanying materials were unfinished upon my viewing, which was after the official opening. Editing is a big problem here.
The main room, for example, is totally misused. Consisting entirely of abstract pieces, it front-loads the show with a misleading sense of the gallery's representation. It's an overpriced garage sale of mediocre abstracts, like Fiona Rae's ill-composed and overdone Simply Carry This Map to Travel Through Time, Beatriz Milhazes's folky-ornamental and geometric A Lua and Elizabeth Murray's messy Cry Baby, a giant amoeba-shaped canvas with cartoonish, unappealing color and dimension. This is what Texas Gallery chose as the show's centerpiece?
Some works display interesting application techniques, like Melissa Meyer's Klotho, a squiggly, well-composed canvas of blue, salmon, lavender and yellow. Its hazy layers and flat texture shouldn't somehow work, but do. Dona Nelson's impressive Okey-Dokey utilizes acrylic and dyed, twisted cloth applied to the canvas's backside to create strange tie-dye conglomerations that resemble degraded film emulsion on a bled-through grid. Both sides of the impressive orange, blue and green work are viewable.
Walking back through the gallery's office and the sizable back room, the show gets more interesting, and somewhat more bewildering. A trio of small works by Clare Rojas resides on a wall by a storage area. The delicate, skillfully detailed paintings on wood panels are Japanese-inspired scenes that balance tradition and pop. Untitled (Man in Mound) references comics and anime, while Untitled (Cherry Pickers in the Trees) is a scene of opulent estate life.
Kathleen Gilje's Portrait of Thomas Hanmer, Restored (After Van Dyck) is a clever and funny "deconstruction" of Van Dyck's 1638 portrait. The subject has been stripped of his black cloak, naked save for a white collar and white gloves. It's cheeky and glammy in a Marc Bolan way.
The back room is littered with sleepy still lifes and painfully dull and outdated works like Joan Brown's 1982 Summer Solstice, an ugly brown-on-blue work depicting a weirdly rendered person holding a black cat with a simplistic line-dot constellation in the background. Really?
Because here's the shocker: The show's most outstanding piece is hidden way back in a dark corner and not even lit. Shawne Major's L'Argent is a wonderful, rich tapestry of clothing, fabric, ornaments and loads of stuff that, from a distance (if you could actually stand back at a decent one), presents a pattern like a densely detailed, abstract sand painting. Tightly packed veins of blue, green, black, pink and silver snake through the work, which fascinates even more on closer inspection. Champagne flutes, trophies, dollar signs and tiaras adorn the surface, along with more sinister symbols like skulls, chains and police badges. Lace and trim are woven throughout, as well as colored netting, which adds an effective depth and texture. Perhaps it's directly inspired by Emile Zola's 1891 novel of wealth and corruption, L'Argent, which translates as "money." It's a delightful piece, and it's beyond me why Texas Gallery would keep it hidden. It should trade spaces with the pointless Cry Baby, which, by the way, is priced at a quarter-million. I don't think I need to point out the irony there.
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