If Nothing Else Matters
You may have noticed the big-ass "For Sale" sign in front of 4411 Montrose. Former Enron executive Jeff Shankman built the gallery complex six years ago and has since declared bankruptcy. The property is being liquidated, but 4411's gallery tenants appear unfazed. In fact, as they wait for the building to acquire some new owners, they're presenting some of their most interesting shows.
Peel Gallery features the quirky exhibit "Libby Black: If Nothing Else Matters." It's filled with drawings and paintings lovingly rendered from fashion magazines, as well as brightly colored, slightly wonky painted-paper sculptures seeking to replicate or invent status-symbol luxury products. Prada trunk or Goyard roller skates, anyone? Black's work looks like it was made in a federal penitentiary craft room by a socialite with a glue gun trying desperately to re-create her former life. And speaking of socialites in federal penitentiaries, the show was curated by Lea Weingarten, formerly Lea Fastow.
Houstonians who lost their jobs, pensions and/or asses in Enron will no doubt remember her. (Interesting how Enron keeps bubbling to the surface in Houston, like a superfund site someone tried to "remediate" with a layer of sod.) Weingarten served a year in federal prison after six felony counts were reduced to one misdemeanor tax evasion charge, to which she pled guilty. She was released in July 2005 and, after a stab at nursing school, has reinvented herself as an art consultant. The Fastows were art collectors before Enron blew up, and 4411 builder Shankman and Weingarten were both on Enron's art selection committee, so curating is not something Weingarten picked up while making license plates.
Libby Black's art is a love letter to fashion and expensive status objects cut with a slyly ironic take on conspicuous consumption. In past works, she has re-created entire Kate Spade and Louis Vuitton stores. And the pieces are ambiguous enough that wealthy consumers of the actual brands can find them appealing in a straightforward way. "Oh, how clever, a Louis Vuitton trunk just like mine, but it's made of paaaaper!" One wonders if Weingarten sees the show as a symbolic new leaf, a darkly humorous comment on the greed of the Enron era. Or is she drawn to it because of the products and world it represents? I can't say, but the preview featured Prosecco and caviar — and the event was covered in Culturemap by society columnist Shelby Hodge. Is it all intentionally ironic or business as usual? I fear it's the latter.
Also upstairs in the 4411 Montrose building is Barbara Davis Gallery's exhibition, "Joe Mancuso: Trace." Flowers are the subject matter, a fact that may repel cynical art types even as it attracts herds of decorators. But those harboring flowers-in-art prejudices should set them aside — this is the best stuff I've seen from Mancuso, who is always a solid artist. The main gallery is beautifully installed with a series of large cutout flower shapes with layers of flat petals. The low-relief pieces are made from wood and finished in a variety of ways, with watery whitewashes or thick, opaque layers of glossy-white latex. Many of the pieces are coated with some sort of matte acrylic medium, creating a waxy-looking surface that is hard not to want to touch. (Houston-based Mancuso used to use actual wax, but has since acknowledged the material limitations of working in a subtropical clime.)
Perhaps the most striking pieces are Mancuso's linear flower sculptures, one a loose bouquet and the other a single bloom. They're crafted from lengths and pieces of branches fused together and whitewashed. The works are like large, 3D line drawings, and the shadows they cast look like drawings in themselves. The chalky white wood reminds me of some of Cy Twombly's more linear sculptures using plaster and gesso on wood. Like Twombly's, Mancuso's works are the sculptures of a painter who is more intrigued by two dimensions than three, but unlike most Twombly sculpture, Mancuso's works feel effortlessly elegant and unpretentious.
Down the way, Anya Tish Gallery is presenting "Harvey Bott: Paradigms in Paint and Wire." Bott is a 76-year-old artist who is way more productive than most 26-year-old artists, and he's been making strong work since he was a teenager. Bott's 2003 show at Sicardi Gallery of work he made as an 18-year-old was a revelation [see "Secret Taping," November 20, 2003]. The early-1950s cache of drawings made with lines and angles of masking and cellophane tape predated Frank Stella's stripe paintings — and were better.
Stripes are also in evidence in this show of Bott's most recent work. The artist is offering up some nice paintings, with irresistibly thick, glossy color painted over deeply scored sheets of Masonite. The cuts in the Masonite create parallel ridges that underlie and define the vibrant, shiny geometric forms of the work. The show also includes some floor and wall sculptures from the '80s and '90s. They're made from cut and curved sheets of wire mesh with strands of colored plastic-coated wire woven into them to create patterns. The floor piece Another Big Wave (1989) is the most successful, but it's really work that begs to be much larger scale. Bott is just the septuagenarian to pull it off.
Downstairs at Wade Wilson Art, "Dante Marioni: Recent Glass Works" offers up some pretty great glass vessels. Unlike glass celebrity Dale Chihuly — who makes interesting sculpture if your point of departure is a salad bowl, but really mediocre work in the context of contemporary sculpture — Marioni focuses on making gorgeous vessels that don't try to pretend to be something they aren't. His black, red-trimmed vases have an ancient Greece vibe to them and are as slender as stilettos. The same strong colors appear in Marioni's Red in Black Vessel Display (2007). A three-shelf black display box is filled with ruby-red vases sporting curving handles, arcing arms and ball-like appendages. It's a visually stunning piece, and the vessels read like a cast of animated characters.
Whoever 4411's new owners turn out to be, they might want to consider letting the galleries pay their rent in art. They'd end up with some pretty nice stuff.
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