Super "MARKET"

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In the past, the holiday season has meant "group show" season for commercial galleries as they tried to present a wide selection of work for holiday art buyers while trying not to do anything too crassly commercial. Arturo Palacios of Art Palace basically said, to hell with that disingenuous shit and turned his gallery into a holiday "ART MARKET." The results are pretty great.

The "market" has some interesting art not only because of the artists and work Palacios has brought together but because the "market" aspect of the show seems like it really let some artists cut loose, have fun and make some great stuff in the process.

Jim Nolan's past sculptural work has employed the abject tube sock. But as absurd (or Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque) as this material choice is, the sculptures came across as oddly uptight, stripped down and controlled, damped down by some weighty theoretical agenda. Meanwhile, his stuff in "ART MARKET" jettisons any arty restraint. He's offering up some rude, edgy and absolutely hysterical pieces. Nosegays of fake flowers "embellished" with spray paint sprout from limp, dangling tube socks. The artist has spray-painted stripes down the socks, one of them stenciled with the run-together words "THANKSFORFUCKINGME." I'd love to see a similar lack of restraint invade more of Nolan's work.



Through December 23. Art Palace, 3913 Main, 281-501-2964. (Holiday hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.)

Allison Hunter's small photo was a pleasant surprise. The image of a dangling butterfly is so digitally altered, it looks almost like a blue line drawing on a white ground. Hunter has a larger version of it on view at the Houston Arts Alliance gallery, but the 30-by-30-inch version isn't nearly as effective as the small 10-by-10 inch version on view here. The size may be less "important," but it works much better with Hunter's insect imagery. It's not trying to load the butterfly with more content than it can carry, so to speak. And her tiny paintings of bees, only a couple inches high, are lovely little studies.

There's a lot of craftsy felt stuff going on in the art world, and this show has some great examples. I love Dennis Nance's "Beefside Pillow." It's a "pillow" of red and white felt sewn in the shape of a big hanging side of beef. It's beautifully crafted and really witty. Nance also has some "Squid Scarves" that look like big, colorful, fat tentacles. Apparently, they were cut down and refashioned from a squid suit Nance had fashioned. Meanwhile, the talented Jason Villegas has some tiny little celebrity portraits done in cut and collaged bits of felt. Check out the kinda cute, kinda creepy Roy Orbison and Michael Jackson portraits. Emily Link has even more fabric; her Impaled Head Puppet, Arturian is a felt head (a portrait of gallerist Arturo Palacios) stuck on a pike, with its tongue hanging out. Its features are collaged on with goofy, Frankenstein-like stitches.

Seth Mittag is showing a puppet from a stop-motion animation project, as well as a great little collaboration with Elaine Bradford. Mittag crafted a series of miniature deer heads in polyurethane resin, coated them with flocking and turned them over to Bradford to cover with her trademark crochet. It's a great little collaboration, and it could even be a potential new direction for Bradford. In the past, she has taken and altered taxidermied animals, but fabricating creatures entirely of her own invention might be something interesting to explore in the future.

I haven't seen Ebony Porter's work for several years, and I really like her small collages in the show. Porter created these faceted gemstone-like shapes and then stuck kitschy 1960s nudes on them. They have this abstraction-meets-Bond Girl vibe that's engagingly campy. Xochi Solis's small, richly colored collages of layered, loosely oval forms are strong as well.

The works in the show are priced from $20 to $2,500. Nathan Green, who had some wonderfully lurid paintings in his exhibition at Art Palace last summer, is here offering up an ongoing edition of Gold Bricks (concrete bricks painted gold) at only $25 each. Next door, gallerist Devin Borden has a stack by his door. (And speaking of galleries next door, down the block or across town, giving art and supporting local artists and galleries is a fabulous holiday gift idea. And many galleries will let you spread your payments out.)

There are lots more good things in this refreshing show. Sometimes, the desire to make Art with a capital "A" can weigh an artist down. I'm not advocating easy-to-get, saleable stuff as a universal artistic goal, but I don't think it hurts for some artists to lighten up and have fun. It's important to allow the work to be what it's going to be, rather than feeling like you have to go out of your way to make it more serious or more obscure or more intellectual. If it's inherently all those things, great, but overthinking has messed up a lot of art. The unassuming nature of "Market" seems like it took the pressure of expectations off some artists, with some wonderful results.

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