Visual Arts

East vs. West, Modern Cityscapes and Nipples: Saturday Night Gallery-Hopping

On a busy night of gallery openings, such as last Saturday, it helps to have a planned itinerary if you ever hope to meet your friends out on the circuit. Planning to "visit galleries we've never visited before" might prove too vague, even along the gallery row on Colquitt, which boasts a significant level of audience density by dint of the fact that a dozen or so galleries share sidewalk space along just two city blocks. Needless to say, our vigilante friend led us on a wild goose chase that let us stop to view some intriguing art along the way.

At Hooks-Epstein Galleries, Leamon Green, an art professor at TSU, was showing his paintings and drawings based on images collected from his travels in Tanzania, including images of women congregating or walking together and men playing tug-of-war. Green, a Fulbright scholar, describes his own arts education as having relegated African and Asian arts to the primitive and artifactual, then assuming in turn that Western and modern arts are basically synonymous. His works challenge these assumptions by integrating classical forms - images of Greek architecture and statuary primarily, but also traditional Islamic ornamentation - into painted images of modern Africa.

The show's title, "What She Said," is a way to acknowledge that the portraits and scenes that he depicts only hint at the conversations and significances that are out of the reach of a mere tourists - which Green acknowledges was his role there. He only had to open his mouth to be found out.

Some of Green's most affecting works are portraits based on photographs from an archive of images of middle-class black men in his hometown of Anniston, Alabama. He overlays these images with Doric columns and statues of Greek heroic figures. The superimposition makes for some surprising results. One sitter's wrought iron bench seemed to double as the entrails of a ghostly Spartacus, who was standing quite close.

We went next door to John Cleary Gallery to wait on our friends, who were nowhere to be seen.

There we found an exuberant collection of black-and-white photographs by Boston-based Henry Horsenstein. The show, simply called "Show," depicts performers and devotees of the carnival-burlesque in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles over the past decade. Some photos were staged while others were shot on stage during performances. In these scenes we encounter fright-drag (male to female and back), masks, whips, swords, dollar bills sprouting from panties, pancake makeup, hula-hoops and pasties. Lord God, the pasties come in every shape and size, they are all covered in rhinestones and they look right back at you.

By this time, we figured out that our friends were not at Colquitt's gallery row at all, but at Artscan Gallery one mile away, where Rudolph Blume Fine Art had new works by Lillian Warren in a show titled "Urban Landscapes." We raced over.

Our friends were gone, but Lillian Warren's new works, mostly acrylic on Mylar, confront the visitor with a sort of instructive nightmare scenario. Simply put, they show us freeway traffic as seen from the ground level: Long lines of cars in lane after lane ahead and behind. The vehicles are removed from their context: the roadways, the billboards and any hint of the viewer's position. The effect is startling, like dodging traffic in the middle the Eastex Freeway at just about 4:30 p.m. any day of the workweek.

We felt a more sentimental appeal in Warren's actual streetscapes, which have been strategically segregated from the freeway scenes in this exhibit. Two rooms feature empty sidewalks, cheap advertisement banners, fire hydrants, traffic barrels and traffic lights, power lines, sorry hedges, and concrete barricades.Through Warren's eye, storefronts are treated just as the same as the backsides of commercial real estate, their utilities and gutters exposed. It's the kind of show that lays open the world around you. Or at least the world around us in Houston.

We found that our friends had gone off to Box 13, way over the East End. We followed, but again were too late. She'd already taken off.

While Box 13 had successfully curated part of the Texas Biennial several weeks ago, we were on our way to see a small show mounted by Emily Sloane's Curation Myth Ministries, "TX BI 2011: A Celebration of Texas-based Bisexual Artists."

Instead of debating medium or method in anticipation of a show based on the sexual identity of its participants, we figured we would find a lot of nipples. We were not disappointed. In fact, Ryan Hank's video piece "Malenourishment" makes the m

ost of the nipple, by placing several false ones on a naked, kneeling young male who proceeds to perform ablutions with cupped handfuls of what might be milk. What a trooper. He wipes it on himself, his false nipples fall off, and he continues his ritual, unimpeded by the camera's steely eye.

In a space as small as a generous walk-in closet, several video projects competed for attention, but we were welcome to turn up and down volume, and press Play on our own initiative. Koomah's music video "This Door Swings ALLways" tells an actual story and entertains through charming pantomime and a plainly put message. Addie Tsai and Traci Matlock collaborated on a photo collage built from Walgreen's photo prints of the two of them in poses individual and intimate, torn up and taped together. We asked about the rich volume of Scotch tape used to bind these collages. "It's what you think you are supposed to keep hidden, but there it is," Matlock answered.

After chasing our friend around all night, we finally were able to meet her at home where we could do an old-fashioned "what-about" over all the shows we'd seen separately and sequentially.

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Hank Hancock
Contact: Hank Hancock