Capsule Art Reviews: March 5, 2015

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

"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

"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

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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