Personal issues become political ones in Pat Johnson's exhibition, "Artist Tries to Save the World," now on view at the Art Car Museum. With a ceramic sculpture and satire duo, Johnson brings to the viewer's attention some of the most polarizing sociopolitical issues of our time: racism, greed, international poverty and hunger. She includes a few paintings, but her most effective statements are made through sculpture, such as The Sacrifice, a terra cotta image of a dying man. Two vultures perch nearby, waiting to dine on the inevitable corpse.
If The Sacrifice does not leave an impression, People Whose Manners I Would Like to Correct, another terra cotta sculpture, certainly does. Seated at a table are two people: one is a teacher; the other, a hooded Klansman. The teacher has in his possession a pencil and a set of rules, while around the Klansman's waist is a rope long enough to spill onto the table, bringing to mind frightening images of lynch mobs. However, the the rope is not as shocking as the teacher's list:
Do not use the "N" word
No rape allowed
Do not make racial slurs
No Rick Perry
No late night rides in truck and
chew with your mouth closed.
If the above piece of satire is uncomfortable, its counterweight, Conversations with a Fruit, sits close enough to lessen the sting. Conversations with a Fruit, also a terra cotta sculpture, finds that very same teacher having another conversation -- this time, with a man-sized piece of fruit, specifically, a pear.
How to Cook a Pear
Johnson shares the museum with Carter Ernst's "Fur Bitten" and Ken Mazzu's "Echoes of Oblivion."
Where the personal is political in Johnson's sculptural crusade, creation is an act of destruction in Mazzu's new exhibit. Based on over 10 years of photographing old downtown Houston in stages of demolition, "Oblivion" remakes those shots into oil on canvas paintings, infusing wet slicks of sky blue and silver into the rubble. For residents who have been around long enough to witness old downtown transform into new, it must be exciting to view some of today's landscapes in their transitional stages.
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For example, Facade #20 reveals the current MFAH Audrey Beck building as the former Bovay building. In the painting, the Bovay building is nothing but a pile of blue, gray and red destruction. It is also a bridge between yesterday and today. Mazzu provides more than pictorial evidence of downtown Houston's evolving architectural landscape; if he merely wanted to share a history, couldn't he have just used his photographs? Instead, what Mazzu aims, and achieves, at doing, is capturing the moment that downtown past becomes downtown present, thus bringing life to ruin.
Ernst's exhibit, "Fur Bitten," is more whimsical and more aligned with the vehicular objets d'art that Art Car Museum is known for -- starting with the exhibit's title.
Together, "Fur Bitten" is a clever play on words (forbidden) that simultaneously describes the content of the exhibit. Separately, each word describes the style and substance of Ernst's work. "Fur" appropriately describes the majority of materials used in making the stuffed pieces propped throughout and on the walls of the museum. In addition to heavy use of faux fur, Ernst uses feathers, carpet swatches, worn clothes and even women's lingerie in earthy hues of burgundy and brown. "Bitten" refers to those stuffed pieces: animals and insects, including an oversize fly in the gallery's center. Most conspicuous are the stuffed dogs all over the place, the big daddy of them all being XXX Large, a fuzzy-haired, floppy-eared dog's head sticking out of a side wall. Woof.
All three exhibitions are on view until August 25. Visit www.artcarmuseum.com for more information.