Hanging Plants, Hot Pink and Happy Hour: "Salon of Beauty" at Rice Gallery

Art Attack dodged the raindrops last Thursday to make it inside of Rice Gallery for the opening of Ana Serrano's installation exhibition, "Salon of Beauty," which was packed.

The installation is a recreation of the urban landscape. Each building the artist created for her mini "city" is its own piece of artwork. A 98 Cents store's dark building allows colorful block typography to stand out. A wedding cake shop's hot pink exterior pops against the muted gray burglar bars of the home next door. Oversized bottles of nail polish stand in the "window" of a nail shop, paired with model hands. Walking through, you recognize the makings of a city, whether Los Angeles or Houston.

Serrano, a Los Angeles-based artist, graduated in 2008 from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She was inspired to call her installation "Salon of Beauty" after passing a beauty salon with the same name in her Los Angeles neighborhood. She normally creates sculptural pieces; this is her largest work to date.

"I think it's amazing," said Rice Gallery's assistant curator, Josh Fischer. "Ana has brought not only an ability to make something, but a really unique way of seeing things that exist in our urban landscape that's really transformative."

The work reminded us of the many walk-through worlds of the Children's Museum, except those installations are a lot more extensive and interactive. Here the doors and windows could not be opened, and sentries stood guard at each building, making sure a runaway kid or a touchy-feely adult didn't get too close.

During the artist talk, one of the attendees asked Serrano why she created an urban landscape on such a small scale, with no skyscrapers or other large buildings included. Serrano explained that she purposely wanted to make a city representative of a lower socioeconomic plane.

"I wanted people to be able to walk through and see the city as I see it," said the first-generation Mexican-American.

The installation allowed viewers to play the roles of different city dwellers. You could experience it as a homeowner would, leaving your residence fronted with potted green plants to do daily shopping at the 98 Cents store. Or you could become a girly girl (or manly man), visiting the "Unisex" nail salon for a $25 mani and pedi. The fictional city dweller may choose to venture even further back, to the "xxx" bar filled with "girlsgirlsgirls" and a proudly advertised "HAPPY HOUR," or to the liquor store to make use of the "ATM," "LOTTO" or "Money Orders" services.

Serrano has been in Houston for about a month crafting her masterpiece.

According to Rice outreach coordinator Anna Foret, it was a task trying to keep the exhibit's evolution hidden from view, and although they posted bits and pieces of its progress on their website, Thursday night's opening was the big reveal.

"It's incredible," said Foret, echoing Fischer's sentiments. "I knew that the installation was going to be incredible, but seeing it, it's hard to put into words."

The installation will be on view through December 11 at Rice Gallery, 6100 Main Street, 713-348-6069.

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