Capsule Art Reviews: April 9, 2015

Capsule reviews by Joelle Jameson, Randy Tibbits and Susie Tommaney

"Barnett Newman: The Late Works" "Barnett Newman: The Late Works," which recently opened at The Menil Collection, is the venue's major show of the spring season. It's the first close look at the late-career works of one of the most important Abstract Expressionist painters, and it's presented in wonderfully open galleries in which paintings and space look made for each other — as much of an experience as an exhibition. But even more important than a single major show is the opportunity the museum is giving us for the next few months to take an exhilarating visual tour through the major modernist thrust of European/American art for the hundred years from the 1860s to the 1960s — from the beginning of the turmoil in 19th-century Paris to the absolute chaos of contemporary late 20th-century America. With a couple of special exhibitions (including Newman), a stunning reinstallation of the permanent collection, and the old standby — but always standout — Surrealist holdings, the Menil is giving us here in Houston an art history experience that can only be bested at the likes of MOMA in New York or the Centre Pompidou in Paris, if even there. It's all there: Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop. You can skim the surface through a hundred years, or you can stop at any point and go deep. To paraphrase one of the most memorable lines of the great Judy Garland as she looked in rapture at the wonders of a world's fair in her own hometown: I almost can't believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in Houston. Through August 2. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400, — RT

"Drawing the Eye to Nothingness" Thedra Cullar-Ledford, in her exhibit "Drawing the Eye to Nothingness" at G Gallery, has launched a full-scale attack against what she refers to as tit cancer, but her weapons of choice are her body, her mind and her creativity. Incorporating images of the breast in all its incarnations — sustenance for the infant, object of lust or tissue on the operating table — survivor Cullar-Ledford's message is more than just cancer awareness; she also wants to educate survivors that post-mastectomy reconstruction surgery is not mandatory. The Tit Wall Installation features dozens of concave and flat metal bowls and platters, each oil-painted with pink and brown and rose-colored breasts. It's a wonderful optical illusion, appearing convex in form, and a fitting tribute to the unique individuality of women. Her Kitchen Performance, a series of ten photographs in collaboration with Everett Tassevigen, is a witty and artful photo-journal of a gin-infused mid-century housewife who bakes and frosts tit cakes in varied states of undress, ultimately re-enacting the surgeon's work in a smeared frosting fishnet-stocking state of ecstasy. Women over 40 will appreciate the uncomfortable parallel as Cullar-Ledford's housewife presses her breast flat in a Suzy Homemaker oven door. Her large-scale paintings also are powerful, especially FU Pink Shit, a montage of three smaller photos of the aforementioned tit cake, knife and fishnet hosiery, a painting of two very fresh surgical scars, and the angry graffiti words "Fuck Cancer" and "Pink Shit" interspersed with scissors, cut lines, arrows and X-marks. Similarly effective is Suck My Tits with the word "Suck" so loud it explodes off the canvas, and an angry X blotting out the word "Cancer." Through April 28. 301 East 11th. 713-869-4770, — ST

"MAAME" RedBud Gallery may house the coziest, most satisfying retrospective of a renowned artist showing in Houston now. The fact that it's been 25 years since the last comprehensive exhibit of the work of John T. Biggers (1924-2001) alone makes it a noteworthy event. What makes it remarkable is the depth and variation conveyed in these masterfully imagined works, which sometimes seem widely varied in style but carry recurring themes and images, while reflecting the artist's evolution from the 1940s into the new millennium. "MAAME"—an African word meaning "mother of mankind" — is at once homage to the divine feminine, slice of Americana and intimate reclaiming of culture, told in intricate, breathtaking detail in black and white lithographs, woodcuts, and colorful drawings and prints. Biggers's work is both historical and strikingly relevant today; after all, he was creating art almost until his death. His portraits and skillful capturing of movement make work like "The Dancers" — shown in two versions, one of which is the only silkscreen print he ever produced — move in geometric shapes, starkly vibrant. In Appreciation (lithograph, 1964) is a portrait of one of his students, essentially a black Buddy Holly in realistic earnestness. Metamorphosis II (lithograph, 1992) abstracts the human form, layering multiple figures over each other like a blooming flower with cruder flowers peppering the background. However, it is The Return (colored lithograph, 1997), a bright print depicting multiple women and a shotgun house, that perhaps most fully encompasses the exhibition: The message of rediscovered identity in the African-American experience and bold artistic technique and careful details to transport the viewer as well. Through April 24. 303 East 11th, 713-862-2532, — JJ

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Joelle Jameson
Randy Tibbits is an independent art writer and curator, specializing in the art history of Houston. He is a member of the Board of Directors of CASETA: Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art and the coordinator of HETAG: Houston Earlier Texas Art Group. He writes art exhibition reviews for Houston Press from time to time.
Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney