Friday, July 31, 2009

The Big Show at Lawndale

As I understand it, Lawndale has been doing "The Big Show" every year for the past 30 years. I don't know if the format has always been the same though. This version of it featured works by a whole bunch of artists from the Houston area. They were chosen by a guest curator from St. Louis from works by 409 artists who entered works (and paid an entry fee for the privilege). The show on the walls is what Laura Fried picked. You can see it until August 8.

I don't have any idea what was rejected from the show, but I was surprised by the number of paintings (as opposed to sculptures or video or installations or mixed media work). I was surprised by the number of basically realist paintings, or paintings that used elements of realism within postmodern contexts. It seems like a really conservative show over-all. That's OK. I was impressed by the painting prowess of Houston.

Kevin Peterson, Hope, oil on canvas, 2009

Like this amusing painting byt Kevin Peterson. The artist assures us that the man on the left is not meant to be Obama, and that indeed both men are white. He made this statement at a slide show given by the artists. Not all the artists spoke, though. I am pretty sure we didn't hear from Michael Arcieri, for example.

Michael Arcieri, Nation Builder, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2009

The idea here is kind of cheesy, juxtapozing a baroque style painting with grafitti. I think he may be suggesting that the two modes of expression are both highly coded in ways that their intended audiences would understand easily, even if they are opaque to 21st century gallery goers. I just like the contrast between the flatness of the grafitti and the depth and roundness of the baroque figures.

Michael Arcieri, Slave, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2009

Grafitti played a part in several pieces. Street art has come a long way since I was doing pieces in the early 80s. I like the way David Cobb painted an illusionistic depiction of basically flat grafitti here, and I like the feel of the railyard.

David S. Cobb, Blue Camel, acrylic on board, 2009

Mindy Kober showed slides of her work over time (as many of the artists did). Her work began being done mostly with gouache but she recently changed to using crayon.

Mindy Kober, Contemplating the Universe, crayon and gouache on paper, 2009

The reason she gave was simple--crayons were cheaper than gouche. The recession has hit everyone hard, hey.

Jed Foronda was one of the slide show artists. He showed a lot of older work that seemed fairly loud and colorful, a little like Ben Jones, but now, as he put it, "painting wasn't working" for him anymore. What he was doing now was excavating magazines with a sharp knife, creating these debossed objects that, in contrast to the earlier work in his slides, seem quite elegant.

Jed Foronda, Glory Hole No. 8, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009

I like how they look like colorful, terraced open-pit mines.

Jed Foronda, The Wheels Keep On Spinning, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009

Jed Foronda, The Wheels Keep On Spinning, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009 (seen from an angle)

Foronda said the best magazines to use for this kind of piece were art magazines and porno magazines--because they both have really good colors.

John Runnels, From the Series: Whisky Tango Foxtrot - For Ultimate Carnal Knowledge, encyclopedia and bookends, 2009

There are a couple of punks in the show. This by John Runnels piece amused me. It was also one of the few sculptural pieces in the show.

Jasmyne Graybill managed to get three sculptures in the show. Well-deserved--these pieces are astonishing (and really disgusting in a totally surprising way).

Jasmyne Graybill, Specklebelly, steamer basket and polymer clay, 2008

Yech, right?

Jasmyne Graybill, Citruspur, lime squeeze, polymer clay and plastic, 2008

This is art you can almost smell--musty, gag-inducing. The craftsmanship is astonishing.

Jasmyne Graybill, Crested Buttercream Polyps, muffin pan and polymer clay, 2008

I love them. Perfect art for the kitchen!

Over all, the artists seemed too smart. Lots of references to other art and to art history were worn too close to the surface. When the artists spoke, they often spoke of "exploring issues around" this or that. I kept waiting for someone to say, "I paint X because I like X." For all the skill shown here, I didn't feel much. Even the political pieces seemed old hat. I saw reflections of art from New York and elsewhere, filtered through BFA and MFA programs. This may be unfair because I know not all the artists come out of that world of university art education. And I liked a lot of the work! I just wasn't blown away by much, and maybe part of the reason for that was hearing the artists speak about their work. Maybe that was a mistake.

The earnest, intelligent artist statements perhaps gave me extra appreciation for Jim Nolan's slide presentation. He described his work as post-minimalist, and name-checked one of my least favorite artists of the 80s, Joel Shapiro, but in contrast to so many of the artist here, he felt free to declare, "I try to stay away from craftsmanship as much as possible." After all, he added, "if you spend a lot of time on something, does it get better?"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Box 13 Bullet Points

Box 13 is a storefront artspace with studios. Located on Harrisburg near the corner of Wayside, it seems physically far from the Houston art world (the Frenetic Theater is relatively close by, though). Harrisburg is lively and urban, but decidedly working class and Mexican-American. I wonder what Box 13's neighbors think about them.

So when I heard they were displaying a Stephanie Toppin painting, I went to check it out. I liked her work in $timulus.

Oneself by Oneself, Stephanie Toppin, 2009
  • The piece is huge.
  • Evidently, the piece at Diverse Works and this one are part of a single larger piece.

Oneself by Oneself detail, Stephanie Toppin, 2009
  • The bigger piece is a "self-portrait" in the form of a timeline.
  • It might be better to call it a "memoir".
  • But of course, no one would be able to figure out the subject of this large abstract work by looking at it.

Oneself by Oneself detail, Stephanie Toppin, 2009
  • Instead, one sees a brightly colored abstraction that rewards close looks.

Oneself by Oneself detail, Stephanie Toppin, 2009
  • Her handling of paint and colors remind me of early Melissa Miller.
  • I love this work.

Black and White Picket Fence, Emily Sloan, 2009

  • Emily Sloan had three pieces that I thought were cool.
  • The show was somewhat lacking in identifying labels, so I don't know what they were called.
  • One could call them "Picket Fence," "G Cone," and "Castors" I guess.
  • Update: I have titles for her pieces, as you can see beneath the photos.

Traveling Bauhaus R, Emily Sloan, 2009

  • These sculptural works kind of belong to the category of works that can be described thus:
  • No Artistic Talent Was Required to Make Them
  • But They Are So Intriguing and Visually Interesting, They Must Be Art

Turf, Emily Sloan, 2009

  • This is not meant as an insult.
  • After all, Duchamp proved that this approach could be art back in 1913.
  • It becomes incumbent on the viewer, aided by contextual clues, to decide what is art.
  • Postmodernism contended that this was always true.
  • See for example 'La Mort de l'auteur'* by Roland Barthes.
  • And in my eyes, Emily Sloan's work is cool.

Stampede, Kia Niell, 2009

  • I guess the same could be said about the flying buffaloes of Kia Niell

Stampede, Kia Niell, 2009

  • I liked how the shape of the piece changed as you walked up the stairs.

from "Zen and the Indulgence of Environmental Destruction," Anthony Day, 2009

  • The notion of building things out of the interesting "negative" shapes of styrofoam packing material is not a bad one.
  • But with the weak coloring (stryrofoam is notoriously hard to paint) and scattershot approach, Anthony Day's totems have little impact.

back yard of Box 13

  • Remember Kathryn Kelley? I think Box 13's back yard might be her studio.
  • All in all. Box 13 is one hell of an art space. I'm embarrassed that I had never heard of it before this weekend.

*That's French.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Death of an "Artist"

I am officially an old fogey because I agree with every word in this article.

(hat tip Art Market Monitor.)
untitled, Dash Snow, 2005

Saturday, July 18, 2009

$timulus and I Love You Baby Bullets

Two art shows opened Friday so I decided to check them out after work. First was $timulus at Diverse Works, a group show of 2009 recipients of grants from Artadia, a grant-making outfit that supports selected artists in selected cities, including Houston. So like any group show, you have some winners and losers. Usually I only like to talk about the art I like, but I have to complain about El Franco Lee II (or Junior, for short).

El Franco Lee playas
not sure what the title is, El Franco Lee II
  • Junior's art looks inept and adolescent.
Blacksheep vs. Marvel
Blaqsheep vs Marvel, El Franco Lee II
  • It troubles me to look at it--is Junior being ironic or is this work just plain dumb?
  • You are meant to wonder this when you look at some of the work of, say, Mike Kelley or Lisa Yuskavage. But, y'know, really it's obvious that these two are clever postmodernists producing double-coded art.
  • The only hints that he might be an ironist are his elite education (Yale, UH MFA) and where his art is shown.
  • But for me, that just doesn't make up for the bad drawing and general stupidity of the work.
Blaqsheep vs. DC
Blaqsheep vs. DC, El Franco Lee II
  • If he were 16 years old and drawing this, I'd feel slightly embarrassed for him.
from "The Young Manhood of Dan Pussey," by Dan Clowes
  • But I like to think I'm less naive than "Bubbleman"--I don't care if Junior is being postmodern. This art is horrible.
Blaqsheep Vs. Triad
Blaqsheep vs. Triad
  • I mean "Blaqsheep vs. Triad"--Jesus.
  • But some of the art in the show was good.
Stephanie Toppin self portrait
Self-Portrait, Stephanie Toppin
  • Like this.
Delilah Montoya
La Llorona in Lilith's Garden, Delilah Montoya with Tina Hernandez, 2004
  • And this.
Delilah Montoya detail 1
La Llorona in Lilith's Garden, Delilah Montoya with Tina Hernandez, 2004, detail
  • Here's a detail of that last one.
Dawolu Jabari Anderson
Mam E, Dawolu Jabari Anderson
  • This one made me laugh. (Laugh with it, not at it.) Dude digs Kirby, eh?
I left Diverse Works with mixed feelings. I was worrying over whether ineptitude as a strategy, as a way of questioning certain artistic meta-narratives, butts up against ineptitude that happens because an artist doesn't know any better. With Junior, like with so much postmodern art, context is everything. If you saw one of those "Blaqsheep" drawings in a teenager's notebook, you might be encouraged that he is being creative, but you certainly wouldn't encourage him to pursue an art career. My question is, does this really change just because the work in on the pristine white walls of Diverse Works?

These questions didn't get easier at my next stop for the night. An art group, I Love You Baby (ILYB for short), was showing at The Joanna.
  • The Joanna is just an ordinary house on Graustark across from the University of St. Thomas.
  • Its shows last one night only--on Friday, that was from 6 pm til 2 am.
  • The group I Love You Baby is a collective of anarchic art punks.
  • They were among the exiles from the Commerce Street Artist Warehouse who were in the movie by Skeezer Stinkfist. (They were ones who had the office Christmas party that degenerated into an orgy of destruction.)
  • Their paintings seem a bit cleverer and more knowing than Junior's.
unknown title, ILYB
  • I liked this one.
unknown title, ILYB
  • And this one made me laugh.
  • But even though they were basically exhibiting in someone's living room, context was everything.
unknown title, ILYB
  • The work would seem ridiculously crude and inexplicable outside a gallery.
unknown title, ILYB
  • One last I Love You Baby painting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nasty Pictures at Frenetic Theater in Bullet Points
Skeez at work

Last night I decided to go see some art films. The program was Nasty Pictures: Twisted Films From Houston Artists. If you want to find details about the program, go here. In fact, you should probably read that first before reading my bullet points.
  • The show was at Frenetic Theater, which is way out east on the non-residential part of Navigation.
  • I was worried about my car getting broken into, but I checked out the crime stats for May--77011 had 12 auto break-ins compared to 32 in 77098 and 31 in 77024!
  • Julia Wallace showed a video of herself giving a BJ while she (live, standing in front of the audience) methodically asked each audience member what their name and favorite color was.
  • She is also the instigator of the well-known (and less-likely to offend the average person) sexyATTACKs.
  • Skeezer Stinkfist's film was a completely disjointed portrait of the punks, rappers, graffiti artists, spoken word poets, etc., who worked in Studio 3 at Commerce Street Artist Warehouse.
  • If you read the articles about their expulsion and its aftermath, and you see this film, you get the idea that they were kicked out for being street artists who didn't have MFAs. It may have been a class thing ... these Mexican punks are lowering to the tone--they must go!
  • That said, Skeez's art brings to mind Tom Devlin's classic putdown--"van art."
  • The theater was unairconditioned--ugh!
  • Frenetic Theater's Fringe Festival (theater, dance, film, music) is happening in August. If they'll put in more fans, I'm there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I LIke Art #2: Carlos Runcie-Tanaka

Carlos Runcie-Tanaka is a Peruvian ceramicist. The show at The Station Museum of Contemporary Art consists of four pieces, three of them very large and requiring rooms of their own. If there was ever a show that one could call spooky, this was it. The light was low in the galleries. Tuneless flute music played softly in the background.

This one is called Huayco/Kawa/Rio. The spheres are made from broken ceramic shards. The random arrangement reminds one of stones in a riverbed. The photo above doesn't really succeed in matching the uncanny feeling of being in the flow of a river that one has walking through this piece.

This one is called Tiempo Detenido/No Olvidar. The photo is a bit fuzzy because I shot it with existing light. That was necessary--this room is completely dark except for the spotlight on the central figure and the red lights coming from beneath the mourners. It appears to be a funeral scene. It was apparently inspired by a real incident in Runcie-Tanaka's life. He was a guest at a Japanese embassy reception when the compound was invaded by members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). This hostage event was the MRTA's last hurrah--Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori sent in the military to rescue the hostages. One hostage was killed (I presume that hostage is represented by the dead figure in the ceramic group), and all the guerillas were killed--eight of them by summary execution after they had surrendered.

The Station Museum frequently shows political art, but despite the inspiration for the piece above, and the dedication of the show to the recent victims of violence in a clash between police and indigenous protesters in Peru, this is not a political show. The art is contemplative. The textures and colors and shapes, as well as the siting of the art, inspire the viewer to linger. Runcie-Tanaka's work will be up through mid-October, so make a point of seeing it.