With its "Round" series, there is one thing for certain about Project Row Houses -- it invites an incredibly diverse group of artists to decorate its row of shotgun houses. The houses themselves are nearly uniform, with each entrance found on the left and the white interior largely open in most cases. But going through each doorway in "Round 36" is like entering a new dimension.
There's Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's Kentifrican Museum of Culture, in which four rooms are dedicated to the ethnomusicology, hairstylings and cultural myths in "Kentrifica," followed by John Pluecker's pop-up bookstore, reading room and experimentation lab. There's Manuel Acevedo's homage to the father of optics, Ibn Al-Hacen, which experiments with optics and elements of photography, and Monie Henderson and Marc Newsome's "Cultural Portal," which explores representations of African Americans in contemporary pop culture through movie posters, photographs and audience prompts. There's Philip Pyle II's commentary on African-American consumer spending, Irvin Tepper's large-scale photographs of the sleeping homeless, and Beth Secor's blue, airplane model-flying homage to her deceased father. You couldn't ask for more varied offerings.
Though widely different, each artist can be viewed on how truly site-specific they are -- could their works be hung similarly elsewhere, for instance, or are they trapped here? Some of the rooms seemed too literal in their working with the space in this sense, hanging up works on the wall as you would in a gallery space. Tepper played with this notion a bit, adding wired fencing and vegetation to one photograph, having another back-lit by a window, all printed on what looked like a projection screen. Acevedo's room was very minimal, using black paint and black curtains to turn his house into a dark room. But it was a jolting contrast to the bright colors of the other rooms, and his installations cleverly played with the light available in the room.
Secor was one of the most successful and memorable artists in the sense of completely transforming the space into something new. She used the walls of the house as her canvas, drawing blueprints of model airplanes and flowers on nearly every open surface. She also hung model airplanes from the ceiling and painted the floorboards blue. It's full of emotion and sentiment even before you know the prints and airplanes belonged to the artist's father (must be all that blue). There's an obsessive quality to it all, with the strange language of the model airplane blueprints surrounding you, but there's also very pretty and clever imagery. I loved the visual of half a plane attached to a wall, circles surrounding it where it makes impact as if it's going through the surface -- it's telling you that your rules don't work here, that this place is different and special.
Round 36 is at Project Row Houses, 2505-2517 Holman St., now through June 24. For more information, call 713-526-7662 or visit projectrowhouses.org.
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