ArtHouston, the self-described "busiest day of the year" for local art, is an annual summer event designed to showcase and promote Houston's vast network of galleries. This year's lineup boasted more than 30 participating locations, and with a little strategy and an enthusiastic companion in tow (who will be referred to from this point on as "Sexy Scientist"), I was able to visit 15.
Initially, the number seemed daunting, but as I planned out our itinerary the night before, I realized it might be easier than it seemed thanks to the clustering of participating galleries on Richmond, Montrose and in "Gallery Row" off of Kirby on Colquitt and Lake streets. My optimism dampened a bit when I saw Sexy Scientist approaching the car in 3-inch heels (those boots were not made for walking), but she never uttered a peep of complaint during what turned out to be a seven-hour tour.
It was hot. We were sweaty. At several of the galleries we did little more than make a loop and walk right out the door. At New Gallery we were approached by a very self-assured artist who greeted us with the words, "Do you know who I am?" (eliciting comparisons to Will Ferrell in Anchorman -- "I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal"), and we were reprimanded for taking pictures at Dean Day. But in the interest of time, I'll just stick to the highlights, listed in the order they occurred below.
McClain Gallery, Under the Big Top We started the day off on a (very) high note at McClain Gallery. While their official ArtHouston selection was listed as Art for Japan, the main attraction was Under the Big Top, a whimsical collection of bright colors and circus themes announced by a loud red-and-white popcorn box-inspired sign in the front window. "Have clowns always been scary? Even before IT and John Wayne Gacy?" I asked Sexy Scientist, gesturing to Ford Beckman's large, maniacally grinning example looming over the entrance of the gallery. "I don't know," she replied. "But I wouldn't be able to
sleep at night with that in my home." Less-creepy standouts included a gigantic ice cream cone (Large Green Cone, 2008) and five-cent piece (Five, 2008) by Donald Baechler, glitter-faced photographs compliments of The Art Guys (Black Draught and Private General), and Ivan Navarro's Skylight, an optical illusion that created a slightly spooky tunnel to eternity in the floor.
McMurtrey Gallery, Jules Buck Jones Totemomennomenclature This solo exhibition by Austin artist Jules Buck Jones had a distinctly Native American feel, with large-scale colorful drawings of owls, hawks, toads and other forest dwellers. We were particularly charmed by a collection of individual drawings of small animals mounted side-by-side in rectangular fashion along the wall, and aptly named Shit Owls Eat, which we later decided was also our favorite title of the day. Honorable mention went to Mark Chatterly's She Dreamed of Nothing But Crocodiles, a wall sculpture at Goldesberry Gallery.
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Anya Tish Gallery, Platform 2011 I first saw Cannings' unusual inflated steel sculptures at the Dallas Art Fair, and was equally impressed by the pieces displayed at Anya Tish. Sexy Scientist asked "What's so special about a bunch of intertubes hung from the ceiling?" But after I explained that they were made of metal rather than plastic, she was instantly intrigued, making a beeline to a wall-mounted work to sneak a tap (much to the amusement of the gallery staff). Seeing we were parched and overheated, the gallerists presented us with mimosas, which naturally rocketed them up to the a top-ranking stop on the tour.
PEEL Gallery, Iker Ortiz The Natural Aesthetic PEEL is quickly becoming one of my favorite local galleries, due largely in part to its quirky, good-natured director Steven Hempel, and an outstanding jewelry collection that contains oddities like a large gold bird skull on a chain, an emerald-eyed snake ring that wraps around two fingers, and a Dia de Los Muertos-inspired cuff bracelet. There is often a "no-touch" aesthetic associated with experiencing art, but not at PEEL. When Hempel noticed us oohing and ahhing over the glass cases housing fourth generation Mexican jeweler Iker Ortiz's gorgeous Art Deco designs, he informed us that we were welcome to "play," opening them up and encouraging us to try them on. This of course resulted in an abundance of giggling and squealing, and Sexy Scientist's musings on a potential career as a hand model.
Colton & Farb Gallery, Use Your Illusion Our last stop of the day also happened to be one of the best; the artists' reception at Colton & Farb. I'll admit, the association with Carolyn Farb, Houston's legendary socialite and "First Lady of Philanthropy" was a bit intimidating. I imagined a stuffy space filled with Houston's wealthy and well-dressed sipping champagne with pinkies extended, congratulating one another on their real estate acquisitions and general feats of world domination. This, however, could not have been further from the reality. Ken Peterson and Dangerously Dolly's enormous tattooed beauty (Inked, 2011) set the tone of the show, an extensive and varied collection of fantasy and fun that included works from beloved street artist Dual, comic book caricatures from War'hous owner Dandee Danao, and Scott Burns' watercolor pieces that combined recognizable images from popular movies that would otherwise have no business being seen together.
Most exhibitions featured in ArtHouston can be viewed throughout the month of July. For a list of all participating galleries, visit www.arthouston.org.