Capsule Art Reviews: March 19, 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, 4173 Elgin, 713-743-9521, 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

"Paintings" In his new "Paintings" exhibit at Hiram Butler Gallery, acrylic artist Brooke Stroud calls upon both the known and the unknown, producing rectangular nature-inspired abstracts with saturated gradations of hue, punctuated by blocks of color. Two of his strongest pieces, 2015's Blue Standard and last year's Star Nursery, are perhaps ghostly embodiments of the ghost lights of Marfa. Blue Standard might be hard to find in the gallery, but it's worth the hunt. One is drawn to the glowing, ghostly orbs, almost pulsing as they float high in the star-dotted night sky, the misty beams attracting each other as if in silent, otherworldly communication. Upwardly vertical strokes of black heat rise from the ground and, in the distance, a small pale blue structure glows pink, as if echoing its response. In addition to outer space, Stroud also seems to be inspired by that other uncharted territory: the deep blue sea. His Apparition embodies the vertical movement of cobalt blue and teal spikes climbing from aquatic depths; a textured black floor of the deepest, blackest ocean rises up hungrily toward the light in Passage; and an olive and teal reptilian texture has been applied to Another Green World. The sunlight shining down through the water is beautifully rendered in Sea Beams, though the pink color block on this piece seems jarringly unfitting and out of place. The great expanse of our Texas landscape serves as inspiration for Lonesome Highway, with its peach-colored sky, as well as for The Burn, with its glowing mandarin-orange desert melting in the heat. The Calling shows the setting or rising sun against a textured black earth with a monolithic red edifice in the distance. Through April 25. 4520 Blossom, 713-863-7097, hirambutler.com. — ST

"Sandwalk" For his fourth solo exhibition at Inman Gallery, Gilad Efrat, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, continues to challenge himself as a painter. In his earlier works, he produced fluid representations of the expansive desert landscape. Evolving from there, Efrat created highly detailed architectural images from photographic references. Darwin Thinking Path demonstrates the artist's skill at applying thick paint over base layers and scraping away small and large areas with a frenetic energy. From a distance one sees the possibility of tree trunks against a red setting sun and its reflection on the desert landscape. Up close, a viewer finds small explosions, objects in flight, architectural forms and an urgent intensity. Survival in the desert is its own form of natural selection, and a great example is the tamarisk tree of the Negev desert, which can survive in highly saline conditions. Efrat offers brightly colored adaptations of this sturdy plant, rendered with heat, movement and extremely detailed texture. One of the pieces evokes images of the burning bush, with its ability to simultaneously be on fire yet not be destroyed by the sacred light. Tamarisk (Negev) calls on colors traditionally found in the '70s — harvest gold, avocado green and neon orange — but the resulting landscape is modern, fresh and highly interpretive. Ktzi'ot Prison on the Moon (Negev) serves as a bridge between the artist's previous linear works and his current experiments with color. His portrayal of the Ansar detention camp, veiled in secrecy, is rendered in cool, barren grays. He has scraped away the paint to emulate barbed wire and painted the expansive desert outside with verdant greens, holding hope for the promise of freedom. Through April 4. 3901 Main, 713-526-7800, inmangallery.com. — ST

"Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist" The title is formidable and the four huge 17th-century tapestries, made for a convent in Madrid and now on the walls of cavernous Cullinan Hall at MFAH, are indeed spectacular, but the real stars of this show — six small panel paintings from the Prado Museum, by Flemish artist/diplomat Peter Paul Rubens, used as designs for the tapestries — aren't just spectacular (such a Barnum & Bailey-sounding word), they're magnificent. There are lots of highfalutin reasons to take time from your busy modern life to see this old stuff that isn't even French or Italian, reasons having to do with art history, religious history, political history — yada yada yada. The real reason is that the paintings are just so damn gorgeous. They are proof positive that "rubenesque" doesn't refer just to plump pink allegorical ladies showing a bit too much. Here the colors are lush; the brushwork is fluid; the compositions and foreshortenings are marvels. And the details — amazing: a cockatoo in the place where you might expect to see the dove of the Holy Spirit; a horse in the midst of turmoil biting his own leg (to scratch an itch?); an amazing celestial chorus line of angels and horses; a dark contorted bug-eyed head being crushed beneath chariot wheels that looks like the sketch for a Goya black painting. Ever since Rubens, artists have been looking closely at his work, and this is our chance to do so, too. Through May 10. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org. — RT

"Terroir: The Taste of a Place" Become instantly transported into the lives of Brazilian coffee plantation workers at portrait artist Chell Vassallo's "Terroir: The Taste of a Place" exhibit at Galeria Regina. Hailing from Brazil, where her grandfather worked the coffee fields, Vassallo has sketched in charcoal the faces of people she has met or photographs she has admired, portraying them in this earlier time and place. During the first half of the 19th century, 1.5 million slaves were imported to Brazil to work on plantations. All of her pieces exude energy and movement, telling the story of both the joys and the sorrows of life on the plantation, often through the eyes of a child. In My Kids, four boys peek around the door, each one's face showing a different emotion based on life experience. The oldest is demonstrably sad, the next is hopeful, the third is bashfully shy and the youngest, not yet scarred by life, is precocious. In Back Home, one can see the happy joy on the child's face as light streams through the opening door; the day's work is done. In Their Kids, a plump Caucasian baby is carried on the back of a turban-adorned worker who's clearly not his mother. There is more to life than work, and dignity is clearly preserved in these portraits. The Afro-American religion Candomblé is embraced by the plump woman in lace dress, adorned with dozens of rings, bracelets and necklaces. Music serves as both respite from the day's work, as seen in the joyous heaven-cast face of the man playing the stringed percussion instrument in Berimbau, and as a cover for men practicing martial arts, disguised as dancing, in Capoeira. Through May 2. 1716 Richmond, 713-523-2524, ­galeriaregina.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