Capsule Art Reviews: December 25, 2014

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"Jorge Marin: Wings of the City" This installation at Discovery Green has nine wonderful sculptures by an acclaimed Mexican sculptor; some are powerful, some playful, some enigmatic, but all are filled with a love for and an appreciation of humanity that is breathtaking and admirable. Though they represent a higher order of being — most are winged — they have retained their humanity. Abrazo Monumental (abrazo is Spanish for "embrace") is a pietà-like sculpture of a winged angel holding a dying woman. El Tiempo shows a wounded soldier, his face intact but his head shattered and missing, and his arms severed as well, yet he remains watchful and alert, resolute, courageous, kept alive by his dedication and his need to protect the city. One sculpture is interactive: It's a pair of giant bronze wings with an opening for the visitor to stand in and be photographed wearing the wings. Titled Alas de Mexico, it is playful indeed, and early on a Saturday evening it was very active, with visitors waiting their turn. There are six winged sculptures, and three that are not winged. Split Monumental has a gymnast with a hawk mask, short hair, balancing on his hands on a globe. Equilibrista 90 Monumental shows a masked gymnast supporting himself with his hands on a globe, his legs stretched straight out, in an elegant line. Hombre Universal Monumental shows a man standing on a large open ring of metal, holding onto it at its top, with outstretched arms, an homage to and an echo of Leonardo da Vinci's sketch of the Vitruvian Man, probably the best-known drawing in the history of art. Through February 8. 1500 McKinney, La Branch at Lamar, 713-400-7336, discovery green.com. — JJT

"Julon Pinkston: Nailed" Sometimes an artist is inspired to proceed in a certain direction, but to a viewer the direction may seem the opposite — uninspired. This is the case with Julon Pinkston's solo show, "Nailed," at Zoya Tommy Gallery. There are two different approaches here. As a person enters the intimate gallery, there is a work titled The Westmont Event, then comes The Westmont Event 2, then The Westmont Event 3, then The Westmont Event 4. They have varying compositions, but all are acrylic paint on nails in a charred-wood panel. There is a fifth similar work, Tumbleweed Tornado Fire. The second approach also uses acrylic paint on nails, but the nails are displayed against a more neutral background than charred wood, and the works are considerably larger. There may be scores, or even hundreds, of these nails. I liked best a black-and-white piece, Spring Hide Sight, and a green one titled Migratory Behavior had an attractive background. The artist's statement read, "In his current work he creates impasto paintings along with paint made to look and feel like ubiquitous objects relating to his studio practice like duct tape, plywood, red stickers using acrylic paint as a medium." I gather that means he uses items such as pushpins or nails coated with acrylic to transform a painting into a sculpture. The statement went on to conclude, "His work explores the transformity of acrylic painting as a media while maintaining a seductive, elegant quality." The works lacked elegance and failed to intrigue, much less seduce. The Woodmont series is dark, somber and serious. It's inscrutable without being intriguing. The other paintings, most of them, are a different story. They are strange, almost verging on grotesquerie. Through January 3. 4411 Montrose, Unit F, 713-523-7424, zoyatommy.com. — JJT

The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden There is a hidden treasure tucked away next to a parking lot, a remarkable collection of majestic sculptures by internationally famed artists, on display behind attractive stone walls in an open-air park; it is the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. It was designed and created by Isamu Noguchi, himself a world-famous sculptor, landscape architect and pioneer of modern interior design. The Cullen Sculpture Garden first opened to the public in 1986 — Noguchi had submitted his initial design in 1979, and refined it over the next five years. The garden covers more than one acre, and is carved into a series of outdoor pavilions, separated sometimes by walls, that permit semi-enclosures around some of the sculptures. The exhibition includes more than 25 works from the MFAH collection, as well as selected loans. The sculptures are deliberately eclectic, demonstrating a range of artistic approaches, so there is no theme, except diversity itself. I liked Alexander Calder's giant red metal The Crab, so filled with dynamic energy that, viewed from the right position, it seems it might be moving threateningly. It is just outside MFAH's main building, guarding the entrance. Raymond Duchamp-Villon's The Large Horse is semi-abstract, with some cubistic elements, and roars with its own energy. Frank Stella's Decanter is extremely complex, powerful yet playful, a combination of circles and planes, some jutting out to catch and demand attention. I was mystified by the title Bird (Oiseau) for Joan Miró's massive bronze, since I saw it as an adolescent rhinoceros about to go on a date, hormones aflame. It is witty and great fun. There is more, much more. Ongoing exhibition. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org. — JJT

"Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River" As museum-goers, it seems, we can never get enough French Impressionist painting, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is giving us another opportunity to test that proposition with the exhibition "Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River." The premise of the show is straightforward: Claude Monet (1840-1926), the artist who is perhaps the pre-eminent Impressionist, was born in Paris, through which flows the Seine; he grew up in the Normandy port city of Le Havre, at the mouth of the river; and for most of his life he lived and painted in one place or another along the river — including Giverny, made famous by his presence — taking the river and its banks as the subject of countless paintings, or at least the framework for them. This is the first exhibition to focus squarely at this aspect of his inspiration and output. It floats up and down the Seine through 50-plus beautiful paintings made over almost 40 years. Though in a literal sense Monet painted the river, he wasn't really interested in it as a river. Primarily he was striving to capture the effects of light and color as transformed by nature through days and seasons. There are masterpieces in the show — Argenteuil of 1875, with its two red boats front and center, and The Seine at Lavacourt of 1880, among them. And it reunites the largest number of paintings from the late great "Mornings on the Seine" series to have been brought together anywhere since first exhibited in 1898. Through February 1. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org — RT

"Postcards from the Trenches: Germans and Americans Visualize the Great War" This exhibition honoring the centennial of the onset of what we now call World War I owes much to the dedication, diligence and talents of the co-curators, Dr. Irene Guenther and Dr. Marion Deshmukh, who marshaled an army of resources to make it possible. The exhibit covers much more ground than simply the postcards. The German artists who served in the war were deeply affected by it, and many went on to portray its horrors in their work. One artist, Otto Dix, recorded his views in satiric and horrifying portraits in War Cripples, 1920, and Wounded Soldier — Autumn 1916. They are powerful indeed. One gifted German artist, Otto Schubert, created art on postcards on a regular basis, sending these home; many of the cards survived, and are included here. Schubert's Evening Mood at the Front captures the loneliness, desolation and deadliness of war in a compelling portrayal. Schubert sometimes wrote messages on the edges of his artistic drawings; one such is Argonne, Captured French, 1916. There are many more by Schubert — look for the jaunty Off to War and the depressing Building a Trench. On the American side, Jules Andre Smith matches Schubert in artistic talent. His Landscape with Soldiers and Trenches, near Thiaucourt, 1918, is frightening, as the trenches horrify with the primitive protection they offer. The title of his Tortured Earth, 1918, describes perfectly the horror of gouging the earth to create military redoubts. Smith captures a softer side in his Rest Area near Neufchateau, as Allied soldiers bathe in a river. The museum offers for $5 an illustrated catalogue prepared by the curators that is very useful. Through February 14. The Printing Museum, 1324 West Clay, 713-522-4652, printingmuseum.org. — JJT

"Raw Material (works by Mari Omori, Kia Neill, and Cassie Normandy White)" Mari Omori first captured my eye — and my imagination — as part of a brilliant two-person show at Total Plaza in July. She is Japan-born, now a Houston resident and educator, and she creates delicate, graceful, surprising art through the use of teabags. I quickly forgot the sheer novelty, as the results stand on their own as art. Here she shows a half-ruff, white, so elegant that it might be worn as a necklace to the opening of a world-famous opera. There is what might be an Australian aborigine's flattened kayak, brown, that looks like wood, but of course it's not. And a gossamer sail hung high that might easily carry Peter Pan to Neverland. Kia Neill shows a graceful, delicate watercolor of a tree, with a strong trunk to anchor it, titled Spore Study #14. She has two interesting still-life sculptures: One, Various Fragments of Fossilized Vessels, consists of delicate, broken shells of eggs, perhaps dinosaurs? The other, Opalized Coral, groups what might be small candlestick holders for tapers. Her small wall-hung Partial Skeleton I liked the least of her work, since it lacked grace and came close to repellent. Cassie Normandy White has a large collage, 88 inches by 60 inches, that is festive and exuberant, with colorful petals and flowers, and the bottom left square totally empty, an act of courage that pays off. She also is showing Populations, composed of 25 small individual works arrayed five across and five down. Each image is a double one, so it yields ten across, but I couldn't summon up enthusiasm for it. Through January 10. Hunter Gather Projects, 5320 Gulfton, Suite 15, 713-664-3302, huntergatherproject.com — JJT

"Urban Asia: Kirk Pedersen" The population shift of Asians toward large cities has captured the imagination of Kirk Pedersen, and he in turn has captured its complexity in a series of photographs and photographic montages on display at the Asia Society. They indicate both urban decay and the construction of residential units in buildings so high they would have seemed impossible a few years ago. There is an impersonal element to many of the photographs, as we see architecture but no humanity. There are a few photographs, however, that do show the impact on humans, and these are powerful indeed. In Thought, Beijing shows a solitary man seated on steps, dressed in black against a gray background; it is a masterful composition. In MX, Hong Kong, a businessman passes a restaurant with a vibrant red background, suggesting the brisk vitality of commerce. Perhaps most striking is Apartments, North Point, Hong Kong, which gives the phrase "towering edifices" a whole new meaning. And a montage featuring a huge advertisement with an attractive female model, Nissan Central District, Hong Kong, illustrates the merchandizing at the heart of all this growth. My favorite is Night Rain, Dalian, a cityscape with huge detail, a wisp of smoke to add mystery, the excitement of rain against the pavement and a black-garbed figure with a vivid blue umbrella. The umbrella is the focal point, and the effect is magical. These works of Pedersen are varied in their scope, but all capture a sense of surging energy. Pedersen creates these without judging, but viewers are entitled to form their own opinions. This is a distinguished exhibition. Through January 4. 1370 Southmore, 713-496-9901, asiasociety.org. — JJT

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