Capsule Art Reviews: "The Beauty Box", "Funnel Tunnel", "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection", "Room Divider", "Summer Studios 2013", "Texas Biennial Invitational",

"The Beauty Box" This is the brainchild of local mixed-media artist Robert Hodge, who, with partner Philip Pyle, a sculptor and digital artist, has converted an open-air space in the Third Ward into a replica of a living room, like "your grandmother's living room or dining room," says Hodge. The front door, located on Dowling Street, opens into a cozy home setting. A wooden dining table with two antique chairs upholstered in deep burgundy fabric greets you. A golden clock glows against red wallpaper. On the floor sits a 1970s Quasar television; above it, pictures of anonymous family members. On the top shelf of a wooden case sits a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta; farther down, a portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Jackie. About halfway through, that red wallpaper changes to blue, with a white couch seated between the two. A lamp glows. A chair sits. A mirror reflects. A Houston native and Third Ward resident, Hodge chose to create "The Beauty Box" as a way to connect with the community's rich past. Starting in the 1930s, the Third Ward became the pre-eminent neighborhood for affluent and aspiring African-Americans. After the oil bust of the 1980s, however, the economy of the area declined, families moved out, and a culture of drugs and homelessness moved in. The space that now houses "The Beauty Box" became a Third Ward eyesore, an empty lot filled with weeds and weed, emblematic of a neighborhood in decline and used, according to Hodge, "as a public restroom." Starting on July 5, the pair spent three days clearing the lot, mowing overgrown grass, tossing out used needles, and removing human and animal feces. About once a week, Hodge and Pyle clean the installation regularly, faithfully, hoping "The Beauty Box" will inspire a reversion to the Third Ward of yesteryear, a time when "painting your house, picking up trash, not drinking a 40 and then throwing it on the ground" was the norm. "I want this to mean a sense of pride," Hodge said. Until September 30. 3902 Dowling, 713-820-0520. — AO

"Funnel Tunnel" Clunky, streaked wood and wiry metal are the last things one would consider using to celebrate Art League Houston and the colorful Montrose neighborhood that surrounds it. Then again, talent is as talent does, and bare-bones as they may be, Patrick Renner's pieces are feats of size and color. Bounded Operator (2012) is a wall of windows glued together and filled with sand, rock and gravel, mingled with pieces of wood splashed in tie-dye, exchanging its windowpane aesthetic for a swirling metal one. The rainbow brightness of Wooddauber (2012) is one of many rainbow-colored chunks of wood from Renner's "Vestigial Structures" show exhibited last year at Avis Frank Gallery. The two pieces are combined to create "Funnel Tunnel," a metal-on-wood masterpiece so big that Art League publicly called on volunteers to help paint the wooden strips in the weeks before its opening. Before then, Renner could be seen blowtorching metal pieces together to create a wiry foundation for the wooden strips to attach to. It would, however, be inaccurate to describe "Funnel Tunnel" as skeletal. While other Renner pieces may come off as hollow, the wood and metal in "Funnel Tunnel" work together to create an artwork representative of the inclusive nature of the area around it. Those wooden strips? Painted in the hues of the rainbow, they very accurately represent the diverse people, businesses and culture of Montrose. The metal? Permanently melded together to hold the rainbow strips of wood, it represents the collectivity of this community. These materials create a 180-foot civic art sculpture seen whirling down the center of Montrose Boulevard. "Funnel Tunnel" will be on display in front of Art League Houston for the next nine months. 1953 Montrose, 713-523-9530. — AO

"Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection" There sits in the Audrey Jones Beck Building at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston an exhibition that is equal parts art history and memoriam: "Gifts from the Past: The Isabel Brown Wilson Collection," donated to the museum by Wilson after her death, is a connection between Wilson's love of art, her love of the history that created it and, ultimately, her love of MFAH. The exhibit reveals an interesting intersection between ancient Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art and customs. The clearest connection that stands out among these ancient civilizations is status and wealth. For example, Mummy Portrait of a Young Girl, a wax piece from 30 B.C. to 100 A.D., fuses two cultures: the Egyptian practice of mummification and the Roman custom of creating portraits of the mummified. The young girl's pretty gold locket and fanciful purple robes are more than mere decoration; they tell of the upper-class stock she must have come from, since the hot wax used to make the work of art was fickle, drying quickly and requiring the artist to work swiftly, and families would pay a pretty penny for this service. There are also connections within each culture. Much of ancient Egypt's art could be used for practical purposes and then recycled into other pieces, either useful or artistic. A faience is finely ground crystal. Egyptians manipulated faience into jewelry, game pieces, furniture, bowls and cups, and later converted the crystal into small figurines that would lie with the mummified dead in the afterlife. The shabti of Tjai-en-hebu is one of three such figures on display just outside the gallery's front doors, ranging from tiny to small to medium in size. Through October 27. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300 — AO

"Room Divider" Mira can cut with the best of them. Instead of chop, chop, chop, throw, throw, throw, the artist brings an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better spirit to the craft of woodcutting, abandoning saws or axes for lasers to cut plywood into geometrical shapes, which she then lines up into precise domino-style formations. "Room Divider" is her solo exhibition, proving Mira's flair for plywood precision. In addition to woodwork, Mira is also a disciple to the current trend of "found object art," in which she cultivates discarded or donated foam, plastic and paper to create sculptures big, medium and small. The origins of "Room Divider" belong to this trend. "This body of work began when I acquired 9,000 scrap plywood triangles from a laser cutting company in Northern Colorado, where I was living at the time," Mira wrote to us in an e-mail. "I've worked on variations of these sculptures at four different artist residencies in four different states – Spiro Arts, McColl Center for Visual Art, Taliesin West, and most recently here in town at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. The process is essentially one of endless repetition, making small modular units over and over until the sculpture reaches dimensions and a scale I'm satisfied with." She adds, "The show consists of three main works. The largest piece extends nearly 21 feet in length, while other works are wall mounted with variable dimensions." Mira has taken the triangles and glued them together into a circular structure, creating a sculpture that is both triangular and spherical -- a geometry professor's dream. The opposing shapes don't take away from the of the color of the plywood; each plywood triangle's tan color and sharp edge gives the sculpture a polished look, like something that a modern furniture store might sell. The 21-foot portion of the exhibition extends the length of Lawndale's Project Space, where it bisects the room, creating two rooms in one. Hence, "Room Divider." Until September 28. 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858. – AO

"Summer Studios 2013" Project Row Houses' "Summer Studios 2013" exhibition opened with a hotter than hot mid-August reception that showcased seven artistically transformed row houses — six filled with the art of individual undergraduate art students and one completed by a group, Rice University's Houston Action Research Team (HART). The houses couldn't be more different from each other — in content and execution. Maggie Hooyman's "Sharing, Understanding and Expanding" is perhaps the least artistically strenuous of the seven but the most inclusive. Markers, paintbrushes and bottles of paint are set up throughout the house. A sweet little note invites viewers to grab a bottle, a brush or a marker and decorate at will. The final product is a rainbow of colors and shapes splayed freely throughout, with positive phrases like "Peace, Hope, Faith" written on walls. Another dynamic art house is Byron Harris's "Hammocks and Music Boxes," a work that disproves economist John Maynard Keynes's prediction that in the future, Americans will enjoy the luxury of a "15-hour working week." Visualizing this involves the use of various pieces of colored string hung throughout the house. The most telling strings are the ones laced throughout a wooden bed frame. Bed frames are usually reinforced with strong wire that mattresses, and ultimately people, rest on. By replacing the wire with string, Harris proves the argument that the bed and, by extension, leisure have become obsolete. Jessie Anderson's "House," at 2509 Holman, is a literally grassroots work. The artist collected found objects, located "within a 15-block radius of this spot," and placed each on the walls of her art house. By doing this, Anderson created a tribute to the natural community of Third Ward. This is equally celebratory and depressing: That these castaway pieces are so easily found in the community reveals an apathetic habit of haphazardly throwing items into lots, yards and streets. "House," then, is a metaphor for Third Ward. Pollution crowds the streets; there is still work to be done. Aldo Rodan's "The Struggle Continues: a Depiction of Mexican Dreams and Hopes," at 2511 Holman, depicts four "dead" bodies: three on the floor and the fourth hanging by toes from the ceiling. The scene, Rodan says, reveals the horror of Mexican drug cartels and the innocents caught in the crossfire. Rodan created the bodies by covering mannequins in a substance he calls "fabric stiffener" and cloaking each with a gray sheet. Haunting. Through September 8. 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662. — AO

"Texas Biennial Invitational" Texas Biennial turns five this year. To celebrate, an exhibition will be on view from September 5 until November 9 at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio. As a special nod to past biennial participants, "Texas Biennial Invitational" is being held at Lawndale Art Center, honoring Christie Blizard, Marcelyn McNeil, Tom Orr and Brad Tucker with a showcase of the artists' current works (Blizard, McNeil, Tucker) and previous ones (Orr). The exhibition, in Lawndale's Grace R. Cavnar Gallery was curated by Michael Duncan (TX 9) and Virginia Rutledge, and is organized in a circle, with Tucker's nine-unit installation, "Body and Voice" (2013), situated in the middle. This is a clean, polite curation, one that allows movement around the pieces, giving viewers the opportunity to admire every artwork on view. Press releases emphasized abstraction as the exhibition's focal theme. It is a theme, but it is the rich color of "Texas Biennial Invitational" that pops out more, even in Orr's black-and-white silkscreen abstracts. Hanging as a set of three on the wall facing Lawndale's large windows, "Nothing More Nothing Less," (2013) "Orange Like A Pro" (2013) and "Red Herring" all display the exhibition's color theme, as well; splotches of bright pink and orange in no particular shape or order adorn each canvas beautifully. On the opposite wall, "Walk Project (visiting where I grew up in Columbus, IN) 7/4/13" (2013), is colorful, too, but identifies more as graffiti art than abstract, thanks to the bursts of rainbow color spray painted onto a canvas lying on the floor. "ZZZZZZZ" (2007) is an oxymoron, for there is nothing boring about it. The mixed media piece is a black-and-white silkscreen rectangle that runs nearly floor to ceiling. This big rectangle is accented by pops of bright color in random places next to or on it: a black square; a teal rectangle; a mirrored cube; a lime green neon string that dangles from the top of the giant rectangle. Its brother, on the other hand, is not boring, either, but might induce hypnosis. "Fingerprint 5," (2007) located on another opposite wall, is completely monochromatic, but designed in an elegant diamond pattern that moves when the viewer stands still. Stare at the center long enough and the horizontal and diagonal lines that wiggle start to look like Medusa's deadly locks jumping out at you, hell-bent on turning you to stone. As you stand there, immobile, staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the 81-by-81-foot piece, it appears they've done the job. Until September 28. 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858. – AO

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