Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Real Estate Art: 2526 Bellmeade

Robert Boyd

The house at the corner of Bellmeade and Westheimer is for sale. If you have ever wanted to live in River Oaks and can afford a $4.2 million dollar mortgage, this house is for you. This modern house is full of art, which is visible in the realtors photos. It seems mostly pretty subtle, with lots of work on paper. I only recognize one of the artists. How about you?

This James Surls sculpture is quite beautiful. This spinning wheel is a form he has used many times. If you are in River Oaks and want to see a James Surls, they just installed a new one on Kirby a few weeks ago.

on the left: four monoprints by Terrell James

As for the other art in the house, I just can't tell. (Update: The four monoprints on the left above are by Terrell James. Certainly quite different from the work she recently showed at Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas!)) But I like the look of these pieces in the dining room.

Update: According to a commenter, one of these pieces is a Robert Wilson.

Update: A commenter says the image over the couch on the left here is a photo by Casey Williams, the recently deceased Houston photographer.

The people who live here are collectors. Their tastes are low key--this isn't visually aggressive art for the most part. My feeling is that anyone who would buy a Surls for their home has reasonably sophisticated tastes. But I can't identify any of the other work, so I will toss it out to you, the readers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lonestar Explosion 2014 - Man Under Blue Board by Raindawg

Dean Liscum

Man Under Blue Board by Raindawg at the Houston International Performance Art Biennale was literally what it says, a man standing under a blue 2"x10"x2' board. It was both minimalist performance art and truth in advertising.

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

In the main gallery of Box 13 amid the other performances, Blue Board was the most compact, the least intrusive performance. It's just there. In being just there, the performance forced the audience to wonder what this silent man standing against the wall under a blue board symbolized, to wonder what would transpire and to anticipate it.

What's he doing? What's he going to do? Am I supposed to interact or intervene? Is that all? Am I missing something?

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

In this minimalism, the performance's philosophical and political weight built. What did it mean? Was he referencing other performance artists? Was he emulating living statue street performers? Was he alluding to early 20th century pole-sitters, ironically? Was he referencing non-violent sit-ins? Was he referencing the homeless, not the aggressive panhandlers but the passive, shy meek masses, the invisible that we (or at least I) stare past and walk past everyday? Was he alluding to people's tendency to treat each other as objects? To view each other as commodities: tools or furniture or art or entertainment? To expect a Candid Camera-Punked experience in which a cohort questions the audience about it's reaction/non-reaction?

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

No one interacted or intervened (at least as far as I observed) and to be fair, the piece didn't overtly invite participation.

When the piece finally ended, Raindawg slowly lowered himself to the floor, and groaned as he rolled and stretched his aching limbs. The audience, as if conditioned by his piece did not offer succor of any kind, it just stared on.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cardinal Points

Robert Boyd

A few weeks ago, I was at Scott Charmin Gallery, deep in the East End, and ended up in a discussion with Emily Peacock about whether or not Scott Charmin was the easternmost gallery or art space in the Houston metro area. While Houston is pretty sprawled out, most of the art is inside the 610 Loop is a few specific neighborhoods. But as I thought about it, I thought that Kallinen Contemporary, Randall Kallinen's home/law office/gallery space on Broadway was probably further east.

Unit K, Bill Daniel's studio and location of Cali Four Nication

Then a week later, I was at Bill Daniel's studio in Pasadena, and Emily Peacock was also there, and she mentioned that this surely had to be the furthest east for any art space in the Houston Metro area. Daniel was hosting a photo show of four California photographers (Eric Zo, Ralph Coon, Dave Schubert and himself) called Cali Four Nication in his studio, which for the night was being called Unit K. And if you count Unit K as an exhibition space--which it certainly was this night--it is easily the furthest east of all Houston area art spaces. That I know of, at least. (All the photos illustrating this post are from Unit K and Cali Four Nication.)

Bill Daniel, photos of bike messengers

That got me thinking, what are the furthest north, south, east and west art spaces here in the Houston area?

Eric Zo photos

EAST: To start with, I thought Unit K in Pasadena is the easternmost art space. As far as I know there is nothing in Baytown, and then you leave the city (and don't come across any more art spaces until you hit Beaumont). But there are two problems with this. First, Unit K is not really an art space--it's a studio that got temporarily turned into an art space. So if that disqualifies it, next up is Kallinen Contemporary on Broadway by the Ship Channel. But really that is a law office that sometimes doubles as an art space. So that takes us back to Scott Charmin Gallery on the East Side. Surely that is the easternmost of all the "full time" art spaces, right?

Eric Zo photos

Wrong. The problem is that while we think of Galveston as being south of town, it's really southeast--farther east than Pasadena. So the furthest east art space I could find is MíArt Gallery.It's a place that I've never heard of, and seems like a gallery that probably caters to the tourist trade, like so many other Galveston galleries.

Ralph Coon

SOUTH: So is MíArt Gallery the furthest South, then? Nope, because the east end of Galveston happens also to be its northern tilting side. I was hoping the southernmost would be the Galveston Art Center (a very fine institution that brings small temporary shows by some of Texas' best artists to the island), but instead it is Affair d'Art (which is a terrible art gallery in my opinion).

Dave Schubert prints at Unit K

WEST: the westmost art space is pretty unambiguous--it's the Katy Contemporary Art Museum. I've written about KCAM before and will probably do so again. They haven't been around all that long, but KCAM has already mounted several exhibits, including a very nice Ibsen Espada show. And KCAM is working hard to be an all-purpose community art resource, with classes and events in addition to exhibits.

photo by Ralph Coon

So it's definitely KCAM, right? Well, maybe. I know Blinn College has shown art at its Sealy campus and maybe in Brenham. Prairie View A&M also has an art gallery. Do we consider them in the Houston metro area? So the answer to westernmost art space depends on where we define the edge of town. Katy is obviously a part of the Houston metro. Sealy and Prairie View? I'm not so sure.

Unit K (with Ralph Koon in the blue tshirt  foreground)

NORTH: I mentioned this idea of finding the cardinal points to a group of artists I regularly have breakfast with, and they immediately nominated the Pearl Fincher Museum for northernmost art space. Not even close. Nor is the Lonestar Community College-Kingwood art gallery, which has hosted several notable exhibits and is slightly further north than the Pearl Fincher Museum. The thing is that the Woodlands and Conroe are significantly north of these two institutions but still decidedly part of metro Houston. The Woodlands has several art galleries as well as its own Art League.

Unit K's record collection

But even further north is Conroe, which also has an Art League. I have never been there, but it seems like it is worth a visit just to see its building. The Conroe Art League is located in the Madeley Building in downtown Conroe, a 100-year old office building. Who knew that Conroe even had 100-year-old buildings? I guess that should teach me to get off the interstate a little more often. There are apparently several galleries close by (including a Thomas Kinkade gallery, Gallery Off the Square), but as far as I can tell, the Conroe Art League is a little bit north of them.

Unit K

After Conroe, you get into rural areas and the Sam Houston National Forest, so I am willing to say that Conroe (and maybe Willis) are the north edge of the Houston Metro Area. That means Huntsville, with the Gaddis Gleeslin Gallery and Phoenix Commotion houses, doesn't count for this purpose. (That said, it's well-worth visiting and if not a part of the Houston Metro, Huntsville is definitely a satellite of the Houston art scene.)

Unit K odds and ends

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lateral at the Mission

Robert Boyd

During FotoFest, I find myself getting photo-ed out. I like photography fine, but so much of it feels similar--here are some interesting images, well composed, arresting, beautiful or disturbing or thoughtful, of some intriguing or important subject matter. And here are some more. You get tired of images during FotoFest. It makes me want to put on headphones and close my eyes after a while.

So I wasn't expecting much when I went to the Mission to check out their FotoFest shows. At least it was a group show, which guaranteed variety. But my favorite thing happened--I walked in having no great expectations and walked out really pleased by what I had seen.

Bryan Zanisnik, 18 Years of American Dreams, 2010, photograph, 60 x 83 inches

The Mission is hosting a group show called Lateral featuring 10 photographers. Bryan Zanisnik had a room to himself, creating a small solo exhibit within the larger group exhibit. Zanisnik created fairly elaborate tableaux in rooms that he either constructed or which already had an unfinished look (for example, an attic space). In this way, the work reminded me of some of Nic Nicosia's photos of constructed rooms, but Zanisnik's images are much more cluttered and visually busy.

Bryan Zanisnik, 22 Monoliths and a Rolodex, 2011, photograph, 42 49 inches

Part of that visual clutter is from what he puts the rooms he shoots, but a big part is the way he papers the walls. 18 Years of American Dreams has a wall covered with baseball cards. The baseball card motif continues in 22 Monoliths and a Rolodex, where the stuff pinned to the walls are pieces of paper (they look like printed out emails) onto which is stenciled a prose narrative about selling baseball cards to a collector.

Collections and attics and basements--it suggests the kind of person who gets involved in collecting something and storing it in underused places in one's home, until something makes the collector sell. It's a common enough obsession--I'm certainly that kind of person, and I've known many like myself in my life. The density of these images makes me think of the environments that collectors develop for their collections. A living collection is always one step ahead of anyone's ability to seriously organize it; we collectors are simply socially acceptable hoarders, if we're honest about it.

Jeremy Bolen, Bioluminescent Communications (in Mosquito Bay), 2011, archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper, 44 x 34 inches

Jeremy Bolen's work in the show belongs to a classic genre, nature photography. But their all-over composition suggests something different. When I first saw them, I thought of blurry stars or maybe the flashes of light from sub-atomic particle reactions in a cloud chamber. If fact, they are photos of bioluminescent organisms taken under water. To me, the fact that I could mistake this image for something very small (charged particles) or very large (stars) when it is actually something alive suggests a thing that repeats throughout the universe. If I weren't so suspicious of the term, I might use the word "sublime" to describe what I was seeing.

Jeremy Bolen, Bioluminescent Communications (in Mosquito Bay) #4, 2011, archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper, 44 x 34 inches

Erica Bohm, Astro II, 2010-2011, digital photograph mounted on plexiglas, 24 x 20 inches

Erica Bohm's photos are intriguing in part because they include images that she couldn't have taken--Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon, for example. My assumption is that she took these photos at NASA, either photographing other photographs or exhibits of actual space hardware. But what she does with the photos gives them a majestic and somewhat mysterious look. Astro II is positively ghostly. Given the danger involved with being an astronaut and the high number of deaths in the profession, this haunted photo feels appropriate.

Jeroen Nelemans, The more I see the less I grasp #GR386300, 2011, lightbox, 25.8 x 25.8 inches

The more I see the less I grasp is a series by Jeroen Nelemans of lightbox photos seen from the back. The photo image is a somewhat generic "majestic nature" image, but what makes it interesting is the literal foregrounding of the fluorescent lights. I can't explain why (which makes me a pretty inadequate critic, I guess), but for me, the image was somehow made more beautiful seen like this. It may be partly the defamiliarization effect of seeing the mechanism normally behind the lightbox, but that seems too facile an explanation. I think the light itself shining back onto the image is beautiful. Certainly Dan Flavin found this kind of light beautiful; he was careful to not combine it with anything--just lights and walls. But why not combine it with other images? In any case, it seems to work here.

I was also impressed with the work of John Opera, Daniel Shea and Marcelo Grossman. There was a lot in Lateral to like. It runs through May 15 at The Mission.

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?

Update: The red piece on top of the cabinets is a Laura Lark, who happens to have a show up now at Devin Borden Gallery.

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.

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