Saturday, April 19, 2014

Here's What Happened to Mimi Pond

Robert Boyd

Back in September 2009, I wrote a post called "Whatever Happened to Mimi Pond?" I had been introduced to her by her husband, Wayne White, who had just built a big installation at the Rice Gallery. Pond was a cartoonist I had been aware of in the 80s but who had dropped off my radar. Not that she was not working during those years; I was just unaware of it. By the time I met her in 2009, she was working on a book about her youthful days in the late 70s working as a waitress in Oakland. She had some pages up on her blog. I couldn't wait to read it, and finally four and a half years later, Over Easy, is here.

The brief outline is that Margaret (soon to be renamed "Madge" by her new boss) is an art student. She runs out of money in her final year of art school and drops out to work at the Imperial Cafe (a fictional version of Mama's Royal Cafe). In essence, that's it. The book is as much about Madge's co-workers and boss and customers as about Madge herself, but what appealed to me is that it's about work. Work is an under-explored subject for comics.

Mimi Pond, Over Easy page 43

The fact the the Imperial is kind of a bohemian hangout doesn't lessen the working class vibe, but it complicates things. As I was reading Over Easy, I was thinking about Ben Davis' 9.5 Theses on Art and Class. He wrote the following:
3.0 Though ruling-class ideology is ultimately dominant within the sphere of the arts, the predominant character of this sphere is middle class.
3.1 "Middle class" in this context does not indicate income level. It indicates a mode of relating to labor and the means of production. "Middle Class" here indicates having an individual, self-directed relationship to production rather than administering and maximizing the profit produced by the labor of others (capitalist class) or selling one's labor power (working class).
Madge is someone who is constantly escaping the working class. Her family background is working class (and her parents display flashes of class consciousness), and going to art school is a way to become middle class in the way that Davis describes. As an art student, she displays class consciousness in a funny aside on art history majors:
If I had any interest in art history before taking her class, it had been squelched by Mrs. Feiffer's dry delivery--that, and the fact that Patty Hearst had been an art history major at U.C. Berkeley, just two miles away.
Patty only reinforced my feeling that art history was a subject fit only for a spoiled debutante, someone who'd take up with a bunch of whacked-out revolutionaries at the drop of a hat. They'd finally caught her in San Francisco, during my first semester at art school.
I wondered: if she'd chosen any other major, would any of this have happened?
But by losing her grants and scholarships and grants for her fourth year of art school, Madge was suddenly thrust out of the middle-class back into the working class. She starts at the bottom--dish-washer at the Imperial, eventually working her way up to waitress. By the end of the book, she is having some success as a freelance cartoonist, which can be seen as stepping away from her working class existence as a waitress.

I realize I'm making Over Easy sound like a Marxist novel, turning Mimi Pond into some graphic novel version of Upton Sinclair or Theodore Dreiser. I think this stuff is sort of a substructure to the book, but it isn't everything. A big part of the book deals with la vie de bohème as witnessed through the characters. Madge's coworkers are poets and punk rockers (at the dawn of punk rock, when it was still quite scary to suburban moms and dads); they sleep with one another, they explore their sexuality and gender, they take too many drugs, etc.

Mimi Pond, Over Easy page 222

Over Easy is so episodic that it's sometimes hard to keep track of events. Time shifts suddenly, sometimes compressing and sometimes expanding. Her first day as a waitress is depicted over the course of 53 pages--about a fifth of the length of the entire book.

Over Easy reads like a bildungsroman, but the ending is inconclusive (but lovely). I wonder if that means Madge's journey will continue.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Real Estate Art: 2630 West Lane Pl.

Robert Boyd

Swamplot caught this one. This Afton Oaks townhouse is packed with art, some of which looks familiar.

For instance, the blue-grey painting in the top center of the photo above looks like a Dorothy Hood. Is it?

And this red painting with torn white lace on it--could it be a Mark Flood?

The rest of the art doesn't appear familiar to me. So as usual, I'm tossing it out to you readers. Do you recognize any of the art in this house? Were my guesses right?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Big Daddy John Hernandez

Robert Boyd

San Antonio artist John Hernandez makes wacky sculptures of cartoon creatures in bizarre vehicles like this one:

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Dragnut plastic model

No, wait a minute--that's Dragnut, a vintage Ed "Big Daddy" Roth plastic model manufactured by Revell.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Mother's Worry plastic model

And here's Mother's Worry. (Both swiped from this "Big Daddy" Roth model webpage.) Hernandez uses things like this as his inspiration for much of the work in his current exhibit Parade at Avis Frank Gallery. I've heard Hernandez's work described as being influenced by pop culture, but this stuff wasn't just pop culture when it appeared in the 60s. It was "junk culture." It was considered the nadir, the most juvenile crap imaginable. The preadolescents who assembled Revell dragster models were assumed to be future glue heads. No one with the possible exception of the irony-filled Tom Wolfe took this stuff remotely seriously.

John Hernandez, Out of the Pan, 2014, acrylic on wood, plastic and styrofoam, 6'6" x 3'3" x 2'5"

My, how things have changed. Of course, there are now a lot of "lowbrow" artists who mine this territory, with whole magazines (Juxtapoz and Hi Fructose) devoted to their work. But even in the sixties when Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was churning this stuff out, there were fine artists who noticed and played off junk culture in their own work (Ray Yoshida and Öyvind Fahlström, for example). At the time, they were seen as just a part of the Pop Art movement.

John Hernandez, Out of the Pan, 2014, acrylic on wood, plastic and styrofoam, 6'6" x 3'3" x 2'5"

The contemporary "lowbrow" artists who mine this material are not cool ironists. They're artists who heard a whole lot of theory in college and said "fuck that noise." They are about pleasure and they don't care if it's "low" pleasure. But one of the reasons the art world accepted Pop Art in the 60s was that they believed that it was cool, ironic and at root, intellectual. And while that may have been true of Roy Lichtenstein, I think we can now safely acknowledge that Andy Warhol was a fan--he did pictures of Liz and Marilyn because he liked them. And while Mel Ramos might have been making ironic juxtapositions of sex objects and consumer products, we have to admit now that Ramos likes painting sexy naked ladies. My point is that whether they were Pop artists or Lowbrow artists, there have been contemporary artists who have been really inspired by junk culture from the late 50s until now. And John Hernandez is one of them.

Hence Out of the Pan, which at first glance appears to be a marble statue of a "Big Daddy" Roth-style monster dragster. This thing is over six feet tall. The gear shift knob has to be extending four feet from the "car." This was always a thing in Roth's artwork--gearshift knobs that come way out of the car. Hernandez has taken that exaggeration and exaggerated it even further.  Of course, it's not actually marble--it's made of wood, plastic and styrofoam, painted to look like marble. But by making Out of the Pan essentially life-size and making it look like marble, Hernandez is commenting on the cultural place of this kind of stuff. Life-size marble statues equal classical art to us. I can't think of a large scale marble statue I've ever seen outside a museum (except for Andreas Lolis's sculptures at Frieze, and they are obviously ironic in the same way Out of the Pan is). In this piece, Hernandez offers up Roth as a modern Phidias. It's an amusing piece of artistic blasphemy.

John Hernandez, Pinocoboat, 2014, ink on paper, 29 x 38 inches

Pinocoboat shows another mutant in a Roth-style vehicle. Instead of a gear-shift knob, his appendage (I  can't quite call it a hand) is holding an umbrella. The drawing is pretty large, but it pays homage to comics artists and commercial illustrators who drew in crisp black and white pen-and-ink for reproduction on a printed page. For example, the sharp, pointed shading in the figure's hair and on the tongue-like ramp are hallmarks of a certain type of comics illustration, while the stipple recalls an older style of illustration (but one that survives on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, which features excellent portraits of news makers drawn in stipple).

John Hernandez, Pinocoboat, 2014,acrylic on wood, 32 x 23 x 7 inches

But Hernandez's color version of Pinocoboat is totally different. Almost all the drawn lines are gone, replaced by intense candy coloring. The drawing really wanted to be on a printed page, but this wooden wall relief feels just right for a gallery wall.

John Hernandez, Revolver, 2014, silkscreen, 23 x 20.5 inches

Revolver made me think that Hernandez might be influenced by the Hairy Who, particularly Karl Wirsum. The whole image has a psychedelic, 60s feel--the multi-color bullets, the vibrating red-blue vortex (labelled "SWIRL") at the center of the gun barrel. Happiness is a warm gun indeed.

John Hernandez, Blue Guitar, 2014, acrylic on wood, 7'4" x 3'6" x 5"

The bug-eyed figure in Blue Guitar looks completely familiar. A kids' cereal mascot perhaps? With this piece, Hernandez edges close to Jeff Koons territory. I guess this is the danger of making art out of junk culture sources. On one hand, you may end up with amusing and surprisingly thoughtful work like Out of the Pan and Revolver. On the other hand, you may end up painting a seven foot tall advertising mascot, or whatever the hell that thing is. That's why I end up feeling ambivalent towards work in this genre. There's a thin line between junk culture-inspired work that is interesting and expressive and work that amounts to valorizing trivial cultural detritus by making it really big. And work in this show fell on both sides of that thin line.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New York Women

Robert Boyd

The phrase "New York Women" suggests many things, but in this case it is the name of a small exhibit of work at GGallery curated by Barbara MacAdam, an editor for ARTnews. The show consists of work by five women in a variety of media.

Rosy Keyser, Recliner, 2014, sawdust, obsidian, mica, oil enamel on canvas, 20 x 18 inches

McAdam wrote a recent profile of Rosy Keyser in ARTnews. In it, she quotes curator Eric Crosby as saying that "Keyser’s work is at odds with so much painting we see today." He is talking about its energy and force, but as a general statement I think he's wrong. This work seems to fall in the general category of "new casualism" as defined by Sharon Butler. This seemed especially true in her use of what Butler calls "non-art materials." Recliner at least has a canvas underneath the sawdust, obsidian and mica that form its corroded, blasted-looking surface. Dance TV eschews even canvas.

Rosy Keyser, Dance TV, 2014, oil, acrylic, linen, medium, a/v tape and wood on straw mat, 24 x 18 inches

Both of these works suggest damage and even violence. Keyser's use of black implies soot and burning. The work is fully abstract, but feels like it could be closeup depictions of sites of violence visited long after the terrible events--bomb sites or the remnants of burned dwellings. The size of each of these paintings is modest, but both Recliner and Dance TV punch above their weight. These are not polite abstractions.

Joan Waltemath, Umarmung or Marsha's two ways (West 5 1, 3, 4, 7...), 2007-12, oil, zinc, phosphorescent and fluorescent pigment on honeycomb aluminum panel

In contrast, Joan Waltemath's abstractions are quite polite--or at least they lack the violence of Keyser's. Waltemath is an art writer and her approach (at least in the paintings displayed here) is more intellectual compared with the more visceral Keyser work. It was interesting that the two artist's work were hung together in GGallery. Waltemath's three paintings are all tall and thin, filled with right angles, squares, rectangles and lines. Like Mondrian, she doesn't worry about machine-like precision--some of the edges of the geometric shapes are obviously hand-painted, and the areas within the rectangles are not perfectly flat areas of color. She combines a subtle painterliness with rigorous design constraints. The work is lovely to look at, but is provokes cool appreciation rather than an emotional response.

Diana Cooper, Road to Nowhere, 2012-14, nixed media, dimensions variable

Diana Cooper's work in the show was less impressive than some of the other work. She is best known for sprawling assemblage installations, but the pieces displayed at GGallery were more restrained. I liked Road to Nowhere best. The outer photos are, as best as I can tell, a footpath. The way the path recedes and curves off to the right makes it look, for a distance, like a wave about to crash, and this effect is multiplied by repetition of the image. I'm not sure what to make of this grouping of photographs, but it is pleasant to look at.

Elisabeth Kley, foreground: untitled, 2013. ceramic, dimensions variable; background: untitled, 2013, acrylic and ink on paper, dimensions variable

The least interesting work to my eyes was Elisabeth Kley's ceramics and drawings. The drawings themselves are designs for ceramic vases. This is work that I suspect is quite meaningful to the artist, but which doesn't communicate well to the viewer. At least, not to this viewer. The designs aren't particularly interesting.

Nancy Haynes, Burnt Prairie, 2012, oil on linen, 20 x 26 inches

The best work in the show was a group of six paintings by Nancy Haynes. They are unabashedly beautiful. Each of them features some choppy brush strokes along the top and bottom edges of the canvas. They make a series of staccato lines that are not quite parallel to the edge of the canvas. They frame a central area of color which consists of a slow fade from left to right. The central colors are blue and brown and grey.

Nancy Haynes, Retinal Boundary, 2012, oil on linen, 18 x 21 1/2 inches

The choppy framing edges at the top and bottom, against the smooth area in the middle, come across as horizons, as if Haynes were painting a landscape with a huge looming sky. Except each painting has two of these horizons. If they were representational images of a landscape horizon, hiving one at the top and bottom would be a surreal image--but not a very exciting one. The fact that the top and bottom edged function like horizons but are abstract gives these paintings a feeling of the uncanny that we get from many of the best surrealist paintings (The Empire of Light, II by Magritte, for example).

Nancy Haynes, Retreat, 2012-13, oil on linen, 18 x 21 1/2 inches

But the surrealists are not the painters on thinks of looking at these works. With their gorgeous framed voids, one might think instead of Mark Rothko. It's interesting that an artist like Haynes, whose earlier work could be quite conceptual, would flirt with the sublime (in the Burkean or Kantian sense) like this, but that is what it seems she is doing. But I can think of another contemporary painter whose work seems equally split between two tendencies: Mark Flood. Some of his work is sardonic conceptualism, some of it--the lace paintings--is beautiful with intimations of the sublime. Interestingly, he like Haynes also frequently makes paintings that surround a central pool of color with an edge. In his case, the edge is lace and the center is a void of color. Nancy Haynes is somewhere between these two Marks--which is kind of a weird place to be. But so what? The paintings struck me as beautiful. These photos don't do them justice. They should be seen in person.

I didn't come away from New York Women with any understanding of Barbara MacAdam's curatorial concept. And maybe expecting some obvious link or common aspect in these works is unnecessary. It's enough to see some work that pleases me. Why it's here is not all that important.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lonestar Explosion 2014 - bear by Jana Whatley

Dean Liscum

Immediately upon seeing Jana Whatley's bear at the Houston International Performance Art Biennale, before I learned the title, I came up with my own titles:
  • Relationship from a woman's viewpoint
  • Mother
  • Labor relations
  • Mule of the World (after Nanny's observation in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God)
As you can see  from those titles, a Chinese knockoff factory could easily reverse-engineer my politics and personal issues. Every artist has to contend with the things we (the audience) carry. That's their burden.

The performance started simply enough. Whatley bent at the waist and a man of relatively equal proportions climbed on her back.

She stood there. The audience waited. She stood there some more, bearing his weight for a minute, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20, then 25, until she could no longer stand.

Then she collapsed to the floor. The man remained on her back until

she gathered her strength and rose to her feet, again,

with the man on her back. Then fini.

During this performance, Whatley didn't say anything. She didn't make eye contact with audience members. She breathed. She sweated. She struggled. She bore her burden until she couldn't bear it anymore. It was exhausting to watch. (You can watch a portion of her performance here.)

The tension/the conflict/the essence of this piece seems to be primarily woman against herself. It's all about the artist. The man-burden Whatley carries, the audience are irrelevant. Of course, there is the more obvious symbolism of gender-politics embodied by the two participants, but it's unadorned with much additional theatricality. The man-burden isn't wearing a suit and tie or track suit or cowboy boots and hat or skinny jeans and a shirt two sizes too small or normicore. Whatley is wearing a flowery print dress, which might be a clumsy gesture to reinforce her femininity, but it's unnecessary. Her feminity and her power are obvious, and the piece derives its power from her straightforward struggle.

My fellow audience members brought their own interpretations to this standard endurance piece as I did mine. Together, we watched, walked away, interacted with other performances occuring simultaneously, but ultimatley we returned. I suspect that this was because regardless of how one chose to interpret the performance, it plainly compelled enduring.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Night Paintings by Guillaume Gelot

Robert Boyd

Guillaume Gelot Night Paintings installation, left to right: Dark Lands, Chair and Darkness

Scott Charmin's second show, Night Paintings by Guillaume Gelot, opened last night. It wasn't exactly what I would have expected after seeing his work in New Paintings by Brandon, Dylan, Guillaume and Isaiah last year. (Scott Charmin's first show featured Dylan Roberts, who was also in the New Paintings show. I wonder if that means we can expect solo shows from Brandon Araujo and
Isaiah López next?) Where Gelot's work in New Paintings had been modest in its approach and a bit self-deprecating, this work is more overtly conceptual and visually challenging.

Guillaume Gelot Night Paintings installation, clockwise from upper left: Market Forces, Moon 1 and Desk

There seem to be three kinds of work here. There are works that have a nasty "fuck you" to them, exemplified by a small painting called Pure Shit that contains the very faint words "pure shit" as its sole bit of content. These paintings made me think of Mark Flood, and Gelot in fact painted everything in this show in what he described as a "shack in the back yard of Mark Flood's studio." 

Guillaume Gelot, Painting II

The second kind of painting in the show are a group of super-hard-edge conceptual paintings. Some, like Painting II, Desk and Chair are similar to the space holders an architect or interior designer might use to figure out where to place furniture in the room. The big grid paintings, Moon I and Moon II, also fit into this category.

Guillaume Gelot, Josephine I

Third are the sexy paintings, Josephine I and Josephine II. These relate back to the "pussy" pictures he included in New Paintings but are more coy. In both of them, he employs a minimum of line and color to depict "Josephine". They are elegant but dehumanizing--Josephine doesn't have a face or hands. Her brains and manual skills are not important, apparently. Thin and elegant like a Cycladic figure, Gelot depicts her as a sexual object only, lacking a self.

Guillaume Gelot, Josephine II

So what do these three things have to do with each other? I think they all overlap. Painting I and Painting II are kind of nasty, too, after all. They are saying "fuck you" to painting, reminding you that paintings are things meant to occupy space on a wall in a pleasant way. Your interior decorator decides you need a 24 x 24 inch square painting and orders one up from a gallery which can supply the right sized piece.

Guillaume Gelot, Market Forces

Which in turn links them to Market Forces. What is in the paintings, this exhibit implies, is not so important as long as there is a market for it. Barely visible words take the place of images and painterly virtues. And if demand for 24 inch square paintings is up, then by God market forces will answer increased demand with increased supply.

Guillaume Gelot, Portrait

Portrait, with the word "portrait" painted in white on a pale pink bathroom seems like it could be yet another dehumanizing depiction of Josephine, and is given an extra twist by being hung in the toilet. Your Eyes may also be another image of Josephine, replacing those well-known windows into the soul with the words "your eyes." And the fact that it says "your eyes" is significant. Someone might say to someone else, "Your eyes are beautiful." This painting reminds "you" that "your eyes" are two words. Don't feel flattered.

Guillaume Gelot, Your Eyes

But what really links the various works is the way the show was hung. That's why I included so many installation views. The works are mostly black, white, and/or grey. Gelot's staging of them is like a graphic designer putting together a printing page. It's deft and appealing. The sense of negativity that amusingly permeates the show is somewhat mitigated by its handsome installation.

Guillaume Gelot Night Paintings installation, left to right: Josephine I, Moon II and Josephine II

Guillaume Gelot Night Paintings installation, left to right: Darkness and Painting II

So a show with paintings like Pure Shit, Dark Lands and Darkness ends up being about installation design, and the relationship of the fairly minimal work with the humble architecture of the Scott Charmin bungalow. Minimal painterly means? A strong dialogue with the architectural setting? This is starting to sound a little like Minimalism. It's almost like you aren't in an exhibit of individual paintings but are instead in a minimalist installation. The architecture is as much a part of the work as the paintings. The gridded windows looking out into the black night are as much a piece as Dark Lands, Chair and Painting II.  I assume this was Gelot's intention, but I don't know. Either way, it's striking and it works.

Night Paintings by Guillaume Gelot is up at Scott Charmin through May 9. 

Bill Davenport and his shop, Bill's Junk

Pete Gershon

[When Pete Gershon wrote Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston's Visionary Art Environments (which we reviewed last week), one chapter dealing with four Houston artists had to be excised for space reasons. Gershon has graciously given us permission to publish the chapter as four separate blog posts on The Great God Pan Is Dead. This is the final post. Please check out the first post about Grace Bashara Green, the second about David David Smalley and the third about Dolan Smith's Museum of the Weird.]

Bill's Junk

“Every shopkeeper is an artist,” proposes Bill Davenport. And while he may not be Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol—both of whom designed store window displays—I can’t help but be impressed with the arrangement of clutter that fills Bill’s Junk, his 11th Street storefront. “Store display is a form of art, and I suppose junk stores have more flexibility than most. The kind of things I deal in are second-hand objects, so as you can see, I have a lot of scope of how I can arrange things.” The walls and shelves are filled with some twenty years’ worth of Davenport’s scrounges from the flea markets, yard sales and trash piles of Houston.

A painting of a goat-headed demon embracing a naked woman as New York City erupts in flames behind them immediately catches the eye. Here’s a tiny block of wood painted to look like an electric range resting on a leather-bound scrapbook stuffed with articles on infectious diseases. Beside it are some unusual rocks, plastic dinosaurs, one of Dolan Smith’s scars, and a twist of sparkly pipe cleaners made by a friend of one of Bill’s pre-teen sons. Its tag reads: “cybernetic organism - $22.”

“Okay, maybe that one’s a bit overpriced,” allows Davenport. “But then again, for a cybernetic organism, it’s not a bad deal.” There are stacks of used CDs and boxes of weird stuffed animals and an array of misshapen ceramics, the forlorn school art projects of decades past. It’s not too far a leap from the display found at Cleveland Turner’s house, a whirlwind of junk with no rhyme or reason to its placement except for one man’s aesthetic instincts.

"Balloons" to "Bill's": Bill's Junk in 2009

It’s become perceived of as something of an art installation within certain circles, owing to Davenport’s background as a sculptor who uses the most modest materials, but that wasn’t the original intent. In 2006, Davenport and his wife, the painter Francesca Fuchs, purchased the 4000-square-foot building at 1125 11th Street. Built back in the 1930s, for some seventy years it functioned as a fleabag flophouse, with a series of what Davenport terms “sad, pathetic businesses” downstairs: a procession of barbers, lunch counters, and most recently, a ramshackle party supply store. The latter’s window painting has been modified, transforming the word “BALLOONS” into “BI LL ‘S”. Davenport himself spent sixteen months renovating the structure from top to bottom, moved his studio into the back, made an apartment for his wife and two boys on the second floor, and pushed his surplus objects into the storefront.

“Sure, people buy things,” he says, “but there’s never been any thought about whether something was saleable. I don’t make any money doing this. I just don’t want this stuff in my studio, so I’ll just put it up here and maybe someone will take it. I’ll tell you what does sell quickly: dead insects. Dead bees, moths, you display them properly and they never last more than a couple of days.”

Bill Davenport and some of his junk for sale

Davenport, who was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1962, picked up art degrees at the University of Massachusetts and Rhode Island School of Design. After graduation he taught a wood shop class at a Quaker school in central Massachusetts but moved to Houston in 1990 when he was invited into the Glassell School of Art’s Core Residency Program. He reaches into a cabinet and produces an example of the kind of sculpture he made at Glassell. It’s made from five small, unpainted scraps of wood, some with angled cuts, glued together.

“I’ve always made things that looked like people’s bad shop projects and then put them into gallery settings,” he says. “People get mad because they’re so badly made.” Shaila Dewan summarized the general attitude toward Davenport’s work in the tagline to her 1999 Houston Press article, "The Antihero: Is Bill Davenport’s art stupid? Yeah. Brilliant? That, too.”

He shows me another project from his time at Glassell. It’s a small wooden box, painted Pepto-Bismol pink, entitled Counter. I imagine how sensual and luxurious the textures of its sloppily applied paint and its badly fitted joints must have looked under bright gallery lights. “It’s very much a conceptual piece. It’s about making the piece, and the desire to make it. The things that I love the best are things where people worked really hard to do something they don’t know how to do, which for me is what all great art is. Sometimes they come up with something the most highly trained artist couldn’t accomplish.”

Yes, everything is really for sale!

To illustrate his point, he points to a yard sale painting hanging in a corner near the ceiling, an unassuming landscape depicting a sailboat on a mountain lake. “I mean, look at old Mr. McKenick here,” Davenport says. “Some of the things he did here, the boat, this tree over here, didn’t really work, or they’re pretty commonplace. But then you get to those mountains in the background, and you’re like, wow, that’s better than just about anything you can imagine.”

Davenport went on to teach classes in sculpture, painting, art history and art appreciation at just about every school in the Houston area, along the way working with painting, crochet and large-scale outdoor sculpture as his preferred mediums. A bin on the curb in front of the store is filled with one of his current sculptural modes—mystery objects, wrapped in newspaper and wound with colorful yarn. A price tag dangles from each, for example: “Object that could bring you luck - $3”.

His work is handled by Houston’s prestigious Inman Gallery and he’s equally well-known for his daily blog updates for the Texas art website of record, Glasstire, for whom he’s written since 2001. When he opened Bill’s Junk in 2008, a steady stream of friends and strangers came to browse. Then one day, Toby Kamps walked in, and asked him if he’d be interested in recreating the store for an exhibit he was curating at the CAMH called No Zoning.

“Up until then it wasn’t an art project,” says Davenport. “I had a lot of fun arranging stuff, yeah, but it wasn’t art. I mean, it was art, but I wasn’t thinking of it like that. It was a case of a curator making the art by designating that it was. I had to think really hard about whether I wanted to do it.”

Davenport accepted the invitation, but he admits it was with mixed feelings. “It was a bit of a crisis. You’re an artist. Important curator comes to your studio, and he doesn’t want your art, he wants your junk. What do you do with that?” In this case, he went with the flow, and replicated his shop within the CAMH’s gallery space, selling thrift store art, decorated sea shells and macramé owls to show-goers—in fact, eager buyers emptied out his store three times before the exhibit came down. The process had come full circle. Not only was the collection of cast-off materials art; now so too was the act of its resale. With Bill’s Junk, Davenport was making a sly (and possibly inadvertent) commentary on the art’s commercialization.

“From a critical point of view, you could say his work with Bill’s Junk is an important turning point for this kind of site work,” says architect Cameron Armstrong. “When an artist creates a space like that and then turns the process around, turning the accumulation into a dispersal, and that dispersal becomes its meaning. I think that’s amazing.”

Armstrong says, “the things we’re talking about, this all comes up right out of the soil of Houston.” He shakes his head and adds, “You’re going to have a hard time explaining all of this to outsiders.”

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