"Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know"
In our time, there may be no art form more divisive than street art. For decades, the public has debated the merits of the genre — from the criminality of the act to the skill and creativity involved. The Station Museum of Contemporary Art enters this debate with "Call It Street Art, Call It Fine Art, Call It What You Know" — a massive show featuring 21 artists known for their work across Houston doing their thing right on the museum's walls. It's a busy exhibit, from the big wall pieces by Ack! and Eyesore to a whole room devoted to impressive portraits by Lee Washington. Given the number of artists, there are a variety of topics, too, including a powerful cityscape by Wiley Robertson and Bryan Cope across the street on the gas station; Vizie's overpowering memorial graffiti artist NEKST; the mysticism of Angel Quesada's Aura Rising
; and overtly politically charged works by Anat Ronen, Deck WGF, Michael C. Rodriguez and Empire I.N.S. that touch on drone warfare, war mentality and civil liberty. Despite the open title, the Station Museum is pretty firm on where it stands. The introduction to the show observes that the work is "street art that has become fine art," an "important new contribution to contemporary art in Houston." This is never more true than in the work of Daniel Anguilu. The graffiti artist has tagged much of Midtown, but rather than be derided, he is celebrated by none other than the city itself; recently, the artist was proudly outed by Metro as being none other than a Metro employee. Here, half of the artist's contribution is actually leftovers from the museum's last big show. He's expanded on it for a work that stretches nearly around the whole room with its colorful abstract, Aztec-esque design, which prompted one gallery-goer to exclaim, "I want to live in here!" on a recent visit. While Anguilu is a celebrated public figure, some of his colleagues prefer anonymity. This is evident from a video by KC Ortiz of graffiti artists in action. Most faces are blurred or obscured — a reminder that there can be consequences for this form of expression. Whether you agree that it's fine art or not, one thing is for certain — street art is fleeting. Given their disposable nature, these murals are pure expression — refreshingly done for the sake of it, and not for a potential sale. Whereas most public graffiti art pieces can be covered up at any time, these at least have an expiration date — the show is up until August 25, at which point the walls will be painted over and revert to white. Through August 25. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. —MD
"Celestial" A new show at McClain Gallery tackles the subject of outer space, but don't expect on-the-nose pieces that reference the planets or extraterrestrials. "Celestial" features only eight works — considerably fewer than you'd expect from a show at the gallery — but it's not short on content. There's plenty to take in thanks to the immense and engaging works by contemporary greats. The show starts off appropriately with a strange assemblage by Robert Rauschenberg titled Shuttle Buttle/ROCI USA (Wax Fire Works). Onto reflective steel, the artist paints and transfers the double image of a space shuttle, as well as places a found wheelbarrow. It's blastoff. You go from one massive piece to the next with James Rosenquist's centerpiece Television or the Cat's Cradle Supports Electronic Picture, which takes up the main wall all on its own. The 20-foot-wide horizontal canvas depicts a dark sky filled with stars, purple flowers, a splintered face and a multicolored lattice pattern. It's a dynamic piece, full of energy and life, however surreal. From there, the show consists primarily of reflective sculptural objects that play with light, color and space. There's Stephen Dean's "Double Ladder," a pretty ladder made out of dichroic glass and aluminum that looks like a prism. Larry Bell's glass works aren't so lighthearted. A gray cube and a dark shadow box are small and contained but play with your sense of space. Look at the cube from one angle and you see yourself looking back at you; look at it from another and you see nothing, just the gray cube. There's a jarring jolt of color with Anish Kapoor's untitled work, which creates a vortex out of a stocking. The blood-red color helps give an eerie vibe to an already eerie concept. These works and others in "Celestial" aren't in-your-face. Rather, they encourage you to let your imagination run wild as you contemplate the unknown, whether you're taking in the disjointed imagery of Rauschenberg and Rosenquist or getting lost in the simple, elegant glasswork of Bell. Through July 3. 2242 Richmond, 713-520-9988. —MD