PG Contemporary Temporarily Expands with Two Shows on Milam

PG Contemporary is a modest gallery. It can hold around 20 pieces, as long as they're each about the size of a 12-inch laptop. There's no room for big pieces, just big ideas.

Enter the PG Contemporary Temporary Annex. When a former yoga studio became available down the block from the Midtown gallery, director Zoya Tommy saw an opportunity and jumped at it. "Pan Y CiRCOS," a new exhibition curated with Houston blog star Robert Boyd, of The Great God Pan is Dead, is a one-off show at the space, which is at least three times the size. And the show takes full advantage of that fact.

When selecting artists, there was no one theme or medium it was married to -- just Houston artists (save for one, photographer Santiago Forero), both emerging and established, that Tommy and Boyd liked and were available on short notice. Think of it as an extension of Boyd's blog -- a live conversation on the Houston art scene.

That method has made for a playful, quirky show, not least of which beginning with Sharon Engelstein's "Soft Head," a bright yellow, inflatable sculpture that's 9'x12'x17' -- in other words, it's big. PG Contemporary's main space never would have been able to contain the phallicy extensions, bubbles and nobs that look ready to explode -- this is a piece that needs room to stretch.

Another sculpture that you similarly gravitate toward is Dennis Harper's "Paper Motorcycle" -- which is exactly what it sounds like. The larger-than-life motorcycle, comprised of paper, mylar, foam-board and wood, with some fun, flame-like touches, is perched on its kickstand towards the back of the gallery. There's more than enough room to do a full circle to admire the craftsmanship. It looks real enough to mount -- almost.

Among the paintings on display, John Sturtevant's acrylics on linen would be impossible to appreciate in PG Contemporary's main space. At five feet wide and almost as white as the wall they hang on, save for some thin, lime-green lines, viewing them in a smaller space would be like sitting too close to the screen at the movies -- you can't step back to appreciate the full picture.

The new space also allows for some video projection. Britt Ragsdale's "Screen Test: Houston" requires just a little patience -- the longer you watch, the better you understand, as, one by one, actors stand in front of the camera and fall, some clutching their chest, others stumbling backwards dramatically. You soon realize they're pretending to get shot. It's laughably bad, but the sheer variety of the act is impressive.

The show was so big, it even spilled out onto the sidewalk during Friday's opening night. Jorge Galvan's "El Dinestio," a sculpture that's part food cart, part 1950s American diner, set up right outside the annex. It's comprised of three bar stools, inviting people up to the stainless steel counter to have a root beer float, we'd like to think. Though Galvan spent most of the night prepping and making tacos for everyone for the rare artwork that appeals to both your mind and stomach. Like many of this city's many food trucks, you can even follow the piece on Twitter, at @Eldinersito, though the page isn't updated that often.

The show at the annex coincides with one at PG Contemporary's main space, which also opened on Friday. "Hard Edges" features the work of Houston painters Mike Hollis and Michael Reed. With their explorations of optics and color theory -- and with pieces mostly coming in at around 12"x12" -- the two complement each other well. You might even think "Hard Edges" was a show by one artist if you didn't know any better.

On closer inspection, the two do manage to distinguish themselves. Hollis is more moody, creating works that are out of focus and blurry, contrasting fuzzed-out purples and greens with straight lines or splashes of pink. Primarily mixed media on MDF boards, they have a cinematic feel, as if you zoomed in 500 percent on a film reel.

Reed, on the other hand, experiments more with layers and process. On his side of the gallery (the left) hang acrylics overlaid with painted plexiglass for a 3-D effect. Some even had companion pieces that deconstruct the painting process. It's easier to understand when looking at both, but here we go: accompanying a hanging piece would be a tower of Plexiglas sheets, each sheet featuring part of the whole design (such as green rectangles that gradually got larger as you went up the stack), so that when you looked at it from above, it had the same image as the accompanying piece on the wall. It's a neat trick, and gallery goers were particularly taken with the concept.

"He's a genius," admired one, after realizing what, exactly, was going on.

Indeed, with its two shows this month, PG Contemporary offers much for you to admire.

"Hard Edges" at PG Contemporary and Pan Y CiRCOS at PG Contemporary Temporary Annex, 3225 Milam Street. Both run now through Nov. 5. For information, call 713-523-7424 or visit www.pgcontemporary.com.

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