Capsule Art Reviews: February 26, 2015

"Mel Chin: Rematch" For the next few months, Houston-born and raised Mel Chin will be taking up practically the whole art atmosphere of the city with his 40-year retrospective. It's a progressive art feast so big that it takes four museums to hold it all. And as a special treat for hometown folks, there's even an added bonus of Chin drawings not included in previous stops in New Orleans and Saint Louis. Due at least in part to this retrospective, Artnet named Chin as one of only two Houston artists on its list of "The 50 Most Exciting Artists of 2014." Pick a nice day to see the show because you'll be driving all over town. And go with an open mind because your preconceptions about what art is will likely be soundly shaken. Chin has been called a "provocateur, environmentalist, activist, political subversive, community organizer, showoff and occasionally an artist; news maker, civic problem solver and a dreamer." Did you notice "artist" almost lost somewhere in the middle of all that? And you thought this was just another artist career retrospective. Wrong. This is not your granddad's idea of what makes art. Unless your granddad was Marcel Duchamp. But is Chin's work art or something else? Or does it really matter what we call it? As long as it helps us see things we might not otherwise see, goads us to think outside our usual box, motivates us to move in (positive) directions we might not take on our own? It is what it is — whatever that is, and you should take this opportunity to see it. Which is probably about as much as a prudent review should say. "Mel Chin: Rematch," Blaffer Art Museum, The University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun Road, 713-743-2255, blafferartmuseum.org; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250, www.camh.org; Asia Society Texas Center,1370 Southmore, 713-496-9901, asiasociety.org/texas; Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama 713-529-6900, stationmuseum.com; and "Paper Trail and Unauthorized Collaborations", Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530, www.artleaguehouston.org. Check each venue for exact dates and times. — RT

"Nature Studies" Propaganda can kill, and one famous example is the story of New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who, in 1931, regurgitated Communist propaganda about Joseph Stalin's rule over the Soviet Union. While a misinformed America slept, Stalin forced individual farmers to work on collective farms and fulfill impossible government quotas. Unable to consume their own grain, almost seven million persons starved and died as the result of a 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. This is a very personal story for artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, whose parents escaped the famine. Her paintings, drawings and collages, interspersed with newspaper clippings and photographs, are a graphic cry for help. On display now at Hunter Gather Project, her work draws attention to the current crisis in Ukraine. During a visit to Chernobyl, Bodnar-Balahutrak became fascinated with the idea that, over time, nature will reclaim the evidence of horrific acts, and people will begin to forget. Will the Grass Grow Over It? is a beautifully layered collage, with the base consisting of photographs of hungry people, sometimes lying dead in the street, and news clippings about the hunger-extermination. She has painted blades of grass, some dead but newer growth as well, interspersed with the words of Soviet Russian writer and journalist Vasily Grossman. "And what has become of all that awful torment and torture? That all will be forgotten...? That the grass will grow over it?" The exhibit includes several important pieces, cleverly incorporating Soviet coins, rubles, maps and animals. What Balls! gets to the heart of the fact that Ukraine should stop waiting for leaders to emerge in the West and that the country can only depend on itself.Through March 7. Hunter Gather Project, 5320 Gulfton, Suite 15, 713-664-3302, huntergatherproject.com. — ST

"New Work: Group Show" A collective of ten artists, most of whom have shown at Zoya Tommy Gallery in the past, represents the swan song for this location but not for this gallery, which will reopen at 4102 Fannin on March 6. Marco Villegas's Long May She Wave was a standout, with its multidimensional layers of blacks on white and a thoughtfully placed breaking-waves stencil effect. Lindsey Nobel's Liquid Line offered a study of white-on-white fibrous synapses resting on top of the canvas with an almost organic floral portrayal of brain connections. Felipe Lopez invoked a hook theme with mixed results. White Degrees showed an architecturally perfect deep-blue sea with a solo hook riding the calm ocean waters. Between Then and Now featured a cobalt-blue hook suspended by filament, hanging like the sword of Damocles over a mirror. It was only Le Crochet Floraison that seemed unfinished, with its crudely painted double-stemmed flowers affixed to the wooden hook base with messily applied plaster. Thirteen pieces by the late Laurent Boccara, arranged horizontally and ranging in size from 7x5 to 10x8, collectively told a story of a man fascinated by maps, geography and ancient labyrinths. It was only later when I realized he also had worked as a field archaeologist. Eric Sall's Slice portrayed a futuristic Picasso-like organism with an embryonic dark center, rendered with meticulous edges and overlays of multisize leaves and resting on a smeared base of red stars. His three other pieces used the similar technique of dark under painting, with an over-painting of oil, then a peeling away of patterned diamond and geometric shapes. Through February 26. 4411 Montrose, 713-523-7427, zoyatommy.com. — ST

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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