"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. 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900. —MD
"São Paulo 2013" The art world is currently experiencing an outpouring of multi-venue, multi-person exhibitions of 50 pieces or more. By comparison, John Palmer's 11-piece "São Paulo 2013" series seems tame. But the amount of work that went into creating the exhibition outweighs all the others. Every year, Palmer chooses a destination to visit, and, having returned, produces a body of work based on that visit that he exhibits in his gallery, the self-named John Palmer Fine Art Gallery & Studio. This year, Palmer traveled to São Paulo, Brazil. He decided on his destination based on an essay contest in which entrants were "to select from one of ten types of emotions and describe how that emotion you selected would be the best one to influence John's next international series," according to Ryan Lindsay, co-owner of the gallery. The winner was Julio Montano, whose essay conceptualized the emotion of surprise. Palmer chose to integrate the element of surprise into the entire exhibit, and instead of announcing his trip to São Paulo, told friends, family and collectors that he was headed to Shanghai, China. He didn't land in Shanghai, of course. With the help of Flavia Liz Di Paolo, an aptly named tour guide, Palmer and Lindsay embarked on four days in São Paulo, immersing themselves in the city's culture, geography and museums — even in an instance of political unrest, which they witnessed during a walking tour through the city's back streets. A mural of a bird stood out to him; ironically, Palmer's nickname is "Birdy." Thus, a black-and-white bird — representing freedom — became the second theme of the series. There are three other elements that tie each of Palmer's series to the others: intense color, photography and abstraction. Remarkably, no matter how many times they are repeated, these controlled variables never become stale in Palmer's pieces. São Paulo 2013 No. 4 (still for sale) makes use of all five themes — surprise, freedom, color, photography and abstraction. Most notable among them is the surprise that pops out in this piece: a picture of Palmer, Di Paolo and an unnamed gentleman next to another photograph of a city hall building and a bridge. All three pictures are touched up with colorful squiggles, giving the piece a light, free feeling. All 11 pieces are enclosed in a brick-red compartment titled Closed Box. This container is itself a work of art, as is Open Box, in which the red doors are flung open to reveal what's inside. What you get, ultimately, is not one piece of art but three. Surprise. 1218 Heights, 713-861-6726. — AO