Houston artists Kristy Peet and Britt Ragsdale have notable photography exhibitions up right now in one of the Museum District's more unconventional spaces.
Described as a gallery, salon, home and chicken ranch, Gallery 1724 is all of those things, though it's no more a gallery than your local Starbucks, hotel lobby or random business that hangs art on its walls can claim to be. To see the work, you have to navigate between tables, chairs and desks of a couple waiting rooms, one lit worse than the other.
In many galleries, you may feel like you have the space to yourself, a curator or owner out of sight in a back room. Here, without someone greeting me at the front desk, I felt like I was trespassing. It was a feeling that, for any law-abiding gallery-goer, would make you feel ill at ease.
The feeling was a good setup, though, for Kristy Peet's "How I Will Die." In her series of clinical-looking photographs, all sharply lit and crystal clear, the photographer is confronting her hypochondria, as she puts it, though it more closely seems to be her fears of mortality. In one photograph, she's lying stretched out on a gurney, a white blanket stretched out over her body except for her feet, which are sticking out towards you with tags hanging from one of the big toes. In another, she's wrapped almost entirely in gauze bandage, her face a white, blank mask. Other images deal with biohazards, amputation, skin cancer and obesity, primarily with the artist as the subject.
There are various props which make the photos like these little scenes or dramas. Peet's playing, it's make-believe, but there's some aspect of truth to it all -- we all go somehow. It's such a personal subject, yet the photos seem scrubbed clean of any messy emotions. The most evocative of all, in this sense, is the gauze portrait, "The most common type of bandage is the gauze bandage." Covered in gauze, Peet has been consumed by her fears to the point where she is indistinguishable.
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Running concurrently at the space is Britt Ragsdale's "Members." Like Peet, he works with bodies, though his photographs don't set a scene so much as capture the angles, forms, shapes and scale of the human body. There are images of outstretched hands, baby's feet, a bald head, knobby knees, and, to be honest, some body parts that aren't so easily identifiable. They're only parts -- photographed against a black background, they don't even look like they belong to a body at all. There's a classic quality to them, the skin as luminous as anything you'd find in a Caravaggio painting.
Most of the photos were printed on a small scale -- 6 by 6, or 12 by 12. I left wishing Ragsdale had gone bigger. Sure, you can fit more photos in the space when they're hand-held, but these photos are larger than life, and should be displayed that way. In fact, the two largest prints -- "Members Study 1.1" and "Members Study 2.1," which feature legs and bodies stacked on top of each other -- were the most captivating. They commanded your attention, and you could study their composition in depth.
I hate to say it, but I also left the gallery wishing I had seen both series in a more standard setup. I love the idea of displaying art in unconventional spaces, where you can interact with it unexpectedly and in new ways, but this salon made it difficult to spend time with the work and experience it closely. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, so as not to be caught trespassing.
"Kristy Peet: How I Will Die" and "Britt Ragsdale: Members" at Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet, now through May 31. For more information, call 713-582-1198 or visit www.gallery1724.blogspot.com.