Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Day to Vote for the Best of 2011

by Robert Boyd

This is my final reminder to vote in my survey on the best Houston art shows/performances/events of 2011. Polling closes at 11:59 tonight. it's been an interesting year for art in Houston, and this is your opportunity to let me know what you liked best! Results will be published tomorrow! The poll can be found here!


Most Popular Pan Posts of 2011

by Robert Boyd

I write posts, Dean Liscum writes posts, but we never have any idea in advance whether they will catch on with readers. You people are ciphers! Anyway, here are the most popular 2011 posts based on page views:

1) A Matter of Wit at Fotofest. Readers came for the nudity but I hope they left delighted with these wacky, surreal photos.

2) A Letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse. I can take no credit whatsoever for this animated version of a well-known encouraging letter from the famous conceptual artist to the famous post-minimal artist. It was animated by Levni Yilmaz, and it really caught on with readers, probably because of its good humor and optimism.

still from Waste Land

3) Vik Muñiz's Waste Land. This was a review of the Oscar-nominated documentary. Read the review then watch it on Netflix!

4) Mysterious North Houston Art Colony Discovered. This was my first (of three) post about Itchy Acres up in Independence Heights. It got a link from Swamplot, the ever-popular real-estate blog, whose readers (including me) delight in finding new and unusual things in out-of-the-way Houston neighborhoods.

5) The LapDance Scholarship (NSFW). This one, about and artist/stripper who funds other artists through her erotic dancing, caught on partly because of those four magic letters NSFW, but also because I posted links on various Iowa and University of Iowa Reddits. I hope some readers got the message about how Emily Moran Barwick grants challenged the very idea of grants--it forced grant recipients to know exactly how their grants were being paid for (which is not the usual case).

6) Is The Houston Chronicle's Art Critic Trying to Get Himself Fired? This was the first of several posts on the saga of Devon Britt-Darby, where he comes out as a once-and-future gay prostitute and former meth addict. This is an ongoing story, and you can follow it on Britt-Darby's blog, Reliable Narratives.

7) Urban Animals by Merrie Wright. There's a great Shonen Knife album called "Rock Animals" which has a song on it ironically about animals made of concrete in a local playground. Maybe people had the same cognitive dissonance here--Wright's art had nothing to do with the beloved 1980s roller-skating gang in Houston, but was actually about animals in urban environments, evolving new strategies of camouflage.

8) Howard the Duck is an Orphan Now...Gene Colan, 1926-2011. This was an obituary of the artist most associated with the comic character Howard the Duck.

Francis Giampietro, "Thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissolvable by the annihilation of one of us!", reconstituted refrigerator, pressure treated wood, furniture leather, ice and pvc, 2011

9) Every Year More MFAs Are Loosed On Houston. This was my review of the 2011 University of Houston MFA class, but it also was a think piece on what happened to previous year's MFAs.

10) Diana Al-Hadid, Cordy Ryman and Jennifer Riley at Peel. Three out-of-town artists showed at Peel (which primarily shows out-of-towners). Al-Hadid and Ryman in particular are up-and-comers. This review is not too different from my other reviews, so I have no idea why it was so popular.

All I can judge by this is that readers like the following--nudity, sex workers, videos, and artists who aren't from Houston. So for 2012, expect a lot more posts featuring videos of international art stars cavorting with naked prostitutes. That should push my page views high enough to start running ads!

Now one final "most popular" post. It's from 2010, but it was the most popular post in 2011 and is my all-time most popular post: Age of Consent. It's a discussion of the movie Age of Consent, about an Australian artist who moves out to a remote beach to try to get new inspiration. It's based on a novel of the same name by an extremely interesting Australian artist/writer named Norman Lindsay. So why is this old post so popular? Imagine the following words in a Google search: "Helen Mirren" and "naked".


Friday, December 30, 2011

Houston Needs Tree Stump Carvers

by Robert Boyd

Lion King

I've discussed the tree-stump carvings in Galveston in a couple of posts in the past. In brief, Ike killed some 4000 trees on the island, and three wood carvers decided to turn some of the stumps into sculptures, such as the one above. I just got a new car yesterday and decided to drive down to Galveston for a shake-down cruise. As I drove aimlessly through Galveston's streets, I kept my eyes open for tree stump sculptures. I found a few, and it occurred to me that a Google map of them would be useful. So I have started one:

View Galveston Stump Art in a larger map

Now there are at least 35 of these sculptures. So my plan is to add to this map on subsequent trips to Galveston. And if any of you readers want to add to the map, be my guest. Ultimately, I'd like it to be a useful resource for folks visiting Galveston, exploring it by car or by bicycle.

Lighthouse and Dolphin

Here are two that were in front of one house. They must have been somewhat small trees--the artist had to come up with highly narrow, vertical sculptural solutions for them.


I'd like to know more about the sculptures. Did the property owners pick the subjects? Or was that decision made in collaboration with the artist(s)? Why Spongebob?


This Alligator was at the same house as the Spongebob, as was the next sculpture. Obviously this is an exception to the "stump" genre since it was carved from a felled trunk.

Dog treeing a cat and a squirrel

This is another exception because this tree isn't dead, nor was it an Ike victim. According to a neighbor who I spoke to, this tree had been struck by lightning in the 1940s, leaving part of it dead. The sculpture is quite ingenious--it uses the dead parts of the tree to depict something that might happen on a tree--a dog chasing a cat and squirrel up a tree.

Dog treeing a cat and a squirrel (detail)

Dog treeing a cat and a squirrel (reverse side)

One thing that is missing here is credits for the art. According to the Chronicle, three artists are responsible:  Earl Jones (from Galveston--I know he did the magnificent Jack Johnson carving), Jim Phillips from Houston, and Dayle Lewis from Indiana. But I'd really like to know who did what. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any contact information or websites for Jones or Phillips.

The thing is, we need to contact these guys. The drought has killed an estimated 1 in ten trees in the Houston area, out of an estimated 660 million trees (!). It was great that Galveston turned tragedy into art, and I think the same could be done here--if we could connect the carvers to the folks with dead trees.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Tree Grows at the Brazos

by Robert Boyd

Brazos Bookstore used to be my favorite bookstore. Its selection was uniformly excellent. It had the best selection of art books in town. (Now I'd give that honor to the MFAH bookstore.) And they had for a while an exhibition space, Brazos Projects, that had some amazing shows. My favorite was the Joe Brainard show in 2005. But in 2006, owner Karl Killian was hired by the Menil. Rather than let the Brazos go, some moneyed customers bought it from Killian. The problem, in my view, was that what made the Brazos Bookstore a great bookstore was Killian himself. An independent bookstore is in some ways a curatorial project, and Killian was a great curator. The present owners are not.

This is not to suggest that the Brazos Bookstore isn't a fine bookstore. It is. But it's been a long time since I felt real excitement walking in there. But I felt some of that old excitement today.

Samuel Wukusick, "string tree", wood and string, 2011

The front part of the store was partially cleared away and this sculpture had been installed. The artist is Samuel Wukusick, about whom I know little. His website indicates that he is primarily a painter and has been in a couple of group shows in Houston since moving here from Ohio.

Samuel Wukusick, "string tree", wood and string, 2011

I don't even know if "string tree" is even the real title--that's just what the cashier called it. It's apt, though. The piece is clearly meant to be an abstraction of a Christmas tree. I like the upside down "string tree" that is inside the right-side up one. The shapes seem conical when you look at them at first, but then you notice that the base of each "cone" is an octagon. (Maybe Wukusick is a fan of ultimate fighting.)

As an installation, what I like about it is that inhabits the space without preventing the space from doing what it is supposed to do. Usually when you see art in a commercial, non-gallery setting, it feels tacked on, like it doesn't really belong. The paintings you see at certain restaurants and coffee-shops, for example. I don't find these to be venues conducive to looking at art, but I think the reason I feel this way is that the art rarely works in concert with its environment. With Wukusick's tree, it did.

I hope this is the start of a trend for the Brazos Bookstore. I understand that this was a seasonal decoration, but it also was an installation handled with real sensitivity. If they could do it this time, I see no reason why they couldn't accomplish the same feat again.


Two More Days to Vote!

by Robert Boyd

Come January 1st, I will stop bothering you, my patient readers, with requests to vote in my year-end poll. Until then, you can access the poll here.

Plates: Gumballs, Licorice Allsorts & Peppermint Candies
Marzia Faggin, Plates: Gumballs, Licorice Allsorts & Peppermint Candies, plaster, glue, acrylic, gloss, 2011

You can vote from a list of art exhibits, performances, and events--but, if you don't see a show you liked, you can write it (or them if more than one) in, and your write-in votes will be counted. We've had some good write-ins. In the "exhibits" category, voters have written in:
Marzia Faggin, Fragile at Nau-haus Art Space
Barrera & Gomez, timesteps at Lawndale
A Matter of Wit at Fotofest
Anthony Shumate, COCKY at Barbara Davis
Seeing Stars: Visionary Drawing from the Collection at the Menil
All excellent shows! (COCKY is disqualified because it was up in November and December 2010, though.)

In the performance category, folks have written in:
Many Mini at Skydive
Jordan Johnson at GGallery
Many Mini included a lot of performance, but it was a sui generis type of thing--it is impossible to pigeonhole into one category. But it certainly is deserving of a write-in vote!

But maybe there's more that deserves a write-in. Probably so. So if you haven't voted in, go in and vote for all the shows you liked, and write in all the ones I forgot to include in my lists!


The Bitch is Back

by Robert Boyd

Do you remember Bernie Taupin? He wrote these deathless lyrics:
Goodbye Norma Jean
From the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something more than sexual
More than just our Marilyn Monroe
To be fair, he also wrote these lyrics (which are inarguably awesome):
My sister looks cute in her braces and boots
A handful of grease in her hair
Don't give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night's alright for fighting
Get a little action in
The top is from "Candle in the Wind," and the bottom is from "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)." For better and worse, Taupin helped shape the sonic landscape of the 70s. But he's not just the lyricist for Elton John. Turns out that like many a celebrity, Bernie dabbles in painting. And soon you will be able to see his paintings here in Houston!

Bernie Taupin, Bamboo

Off the Wall Gallery: (5015 Westheimer), Houston's premier Fine Art Gallery, presents "Beyond Words", an extraordinary collection of contemporary artworks by legendary songwriter and lyricist Bernie Taupin for what promises to be the single most important art event of 2012 in Houston.  Exhibition previews will run from February 4th through February 12, with special appearances by Bernie Taupin on Saturday, February 11 from 6-8 pm and Sunday, February 12 from 2-4pm.  RSVP: 713.871.0940 or at Off the Wall Gallery.
Now you might be somewhat surprised to learn that Off the Wall Gallery is "Houston's premier Fine Art Gallery," and certainly it seems a bit premature to be bragging about the single most important art event in 2012 (there's going to by an exhibit of Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough at the MFAH in June which might give Taupin a run for his money. On the other hand, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough never wrote lyrics half as good as "Island Girl.") Still, shit, I'm definitely tempted by the opportunity to meet the guy who wrote "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Love Lies Bleeding."


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vote Early...Vote Often!

by Robert Boyd

Please cast your vote(s) in my survey of Houston's best 2011 art shows.

If you are worried about or intimidated by the idea of choosing the "best" art show, don't be! This survey is designed to be easy and painless. Here's why:
1) You don't have to choose a single exhibit--you can pick as many or as few exhibits as you like.
2) You don't have to rank your choices.
3) As a consequence, I encourage you to simply pick any exhibit you liked--whatever art show gave you pleasure or made you think.
4) Furthermore, if you don't see a show you liked on the list, you can write it in. Write-ins will be counted towards the final tally.
In short, this is about picking the art you liked. My hope is that collectively, this will give us a consensus view on what exhibits "we" considered the best. But mostly, it's just another list because I love lists and it seems a lot of readers like lists, too.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Red Krayola and Forrest Bess at the Whitney Biennial

by Robert Boyd

The Red Crayola was a rock band made up of students at St. Thomas University. It was formed in 1966 and included as members Mayo Thompson and Frederick Barthelme. They were a psychedelic band that veered heavily into pure happening. Amazingly enough, they were picked up by a Houston-based label, International Artists (run by Lelan Rogers, brother of Kenny). Their songs included such titles as "Pink Stainless Tail," "War Sucks" and "Hurricane Fighter Plane." They weren't exactly the kind of band that played at the high school prom. Their second album was rejected by the label as being "too abstract."

The Red Krayola with Art & Language, Sighs Trapped by Liars

The band broke up in the late sixties, and Mayo Thompson ended up in the UK working as a producer for Rough Trade while also participating in the amorphous art collective Art & Language. While working as a producer for some of the seminal post-punk bands, he decided to reform Red Crayola. Since that time, any group that Mayo puts together is, effectively, Red Crayola (or Red Krayola in the U.S. for trademark reasons). The Red Krayola has been responsible for some of the most interesting and challenging rock music ever made over the past three and a half decades, but also some of the wittiest (see Five American Portraits, for example) and some of the most beautiful (one of my favorite songs is "Fairest of them All" from Sighs Trapped by Liars).

The Red Krayola, Five American Portraits

I was having a conversation with a friend the other night, and he was lamenting the fact that the music world and the visual art world in Houston weren't more closely aligned. I think that this kind of thing ebbs and flows, but certainly Mayo Thompson is a person in whom this kind of alignment is personified.

So I was surprised but quite delighted that the Red Krayola had been chosen for the 2112 Whitney Biennial. Even though Mayo Thompson hasn't lived in Houston for a long, long time, I'll claim the Red Krayola as a "Houston artist" by virtue of its origins here.

Forrest Bess, untitled, oil on canvas, 1957

Another surprise Houston-area artist in the upcoming Biennial is Forrest Bess (1911-1977). Bess was a highly eccentric artist who was born in Bay City (which is near Matagorda Bay). Bess spent most of his life running a bait camp in Chinquapin. And while he was doing it, he was painting a great body of abstract paintings. He wasn't a naive artist or an outsider artist--he was aware of the contemporary art scene in New York, and was represented by Betty Parsons. He had a one-man show at the MFAH in 1951 and one at the CAMH in 1962. He had correspondences with several intellectual titans of his time (including a long correspondence with Meyer Schapiro). Bess had an obsession with being a hermaphrodite, and attempted to perform an operation on himself for that purpose. (We published an account of Bess by one of his last assistants, Michael Senna, back in October.)

Forrest Bess, untitled #5, oil on canvas, 1957

As far as I can tell, these are the only artists who have any connection with Houston in the 2112 Whitney Biennial.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Stendahl Syndrome, Age 2

(Video by sanhelsington, Hat tip Hyperallergic)

Tis the season to post insanely cute videos. Merry Christmas!


Art at the Houston Permitting Center

by Robert Boyd

Do you read Swamplot? (You should--it's one of Houston's most consistently entertaining blogs.) Every year they vote for "the Swampies", voting on various architectural, development, and planning/anti-planning successes and fiascoes in the Houston metro area. One Swampie is "Most Notable Recycling Effort"--a vote for the best remodelling/refurbishing/repurposing project in Houston. And on the top of the ballot this year is the Houston Permitting Center--and the voting seems to be favoring it. (Voting closes on December 27.) Pretty much everyone who has seen this has been impressed.

The Houston Permitting Center

What is it? It used to be a warehouse, and many who saw it described it as an eyesore. It's on the very end of Washington, next to the Amtrack station. The City of Houston decided to turn this building into their new Permitting Center. This is where contractors go to get the various permits they need for building projects. The city hired Studio RED to design the Center. The City devotes a 1.75% of capital improvements to art.  So for an expensive project like this, that's a shitload of money for art. Mary Margaret Hansen won the commission, but it wasn't a single piece of art she put up. Instead, working with 12 artists, she put art everywhere inside and outside the building.

Hansen is a compulsive blogger--she has a personal blog and seems to start up a new blog every time she starts a new project. I like this--it builds anticipation, and informs people about the process and the progress of the project. Her blog about the Permitting Center is worth reading, but reading it as the project unfolded was the ideal way to experience it.

interior of the Houston Permitting Center, first floor

The first art you see on the inside is this:

This is the information desk. Most of the art is labeled, but I couldn't find one for these decorative silhouettes.

Kaneem Smith, Remnant Reverie, 2011

The name plaque for this piece by Kaneem Smith instructs viewers to "please touch."

As I walked further towards the south end of the first floor, I saw these:

I thought at first they were a large art installation, but what they in fact are are demonstration models of various construction materials. But just behind them is this:

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, Torrent (detail), 2011

This is the first "indoor" piece I've ever seen by Havel and Ruck. It definitely gives on the impression of flotsam being carried away by a flood. Kind of a weird item for a building that is mainly concerned with building things (although the Permitting Center also issues demolition permits).Even though they are using recycled material in this piece, it seems ironically to suggest that this is the end-state of all this construction that happens in Houston. It's an evergreen notion:
"My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings."
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Gonzo247, Information Highway, 2011

Gonzo247, Sunset in the City, 2011

Of the two Gonzo247 pieces, I prefer sunset in the city. It feels closer to a traditional graffiti piece. Also I like the irony--sunset often being associated with a quiet time, but in his work, he implies that the city comes alive at night. It has a jazzy urban feel that in some ways recalls Start Davis.

Mary Margaret Hansen, Overheard, 2011

Hansen spent time at the old permitting office listening to the phrases people used. Then she created this word collage out of her research. I've heard through the grapevine that she is irked that they put chairs in front of the piece. No artist likes to have their work covered up. But the Houston Permitting Center is not a museum--it's a working office. Things like this are to be expected. And I thought it had an unexpected aesthetic benefit. In my photograph, it feels like the piece is mirroring the actual thoughts of the guy sitting in front of it with his rolled-up plans and paperwork.

Jesse Sifuentes, View from the East, 2011

A lot of the work so far seems to reflect the bustle of both the Center and of the City, which is appropriate. The Permitting Center is about Houston in transition: tearing down, transforming, building up. You hear a soundtrack of chopped and screwed hip hop or grindcore. Not so with this pretty line of magnolias by Jesse Sifuentes.We're still clearly in an urban environment, but Sifuentes is reminding us of one of Houston's glories--its abundant trees.

Geoff Winningham, Fishing at Allen's Landing on Buffalo Bayou, 2001

The most subtle pieces are Geoff Winningham's photos, which are somehow printed on metal.Winningham too shows a quiet side of the city, but with the reflection in the still water, he reminds the viewer that they are in an urban space--indeed in the very heart of the city. The shadows, the reflection, the silhouette of the fisherman all make this a formally complex photograph. For that reason alone, you could sit and look at it for quite a while. But as a portrait of this city, it also seems perfect. It's timeless--one imagines this scene was common 100 years ago, and it wouldn't be out of place in an old Sig Byrd column.

There are several other artworks in the building and outside. The Houston Permitting Center strikes me as an exemplary example of how to use the 1.75% of capital costs for art. And I say this in a city that is full of squandered art dollars (ahem Tolerance ahem Open Channel Flow).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crude at the Station Museum

by Robert Boyd

Below is a show video walkthrough of Crude by Andrei Molodkin. This show is about oil, and it is pretty much against the corrupting influence of oil on democracies like the U.S. and fake democracies like Russia. It's a provocative show for Houston. Oil money is finances much of the art institutions in Houston, either directly or indirectly. Many friends and acquaintances of mine work in the oil industry, including my brother. (I work in the natural gas industry, which overlaps the oil industry.) It's not Hans Haacke, who would have told us exactly who paid for the art in Houston and how much of that money came from oil. But nonetheless, Crude doesn't pull punches.


Houston's Best Art 2011: What Do You think?

by Robert Boyd

You've read what I think and what several Houston art scene luminaries think. Now it's your turn. Do you think my list was full of shit? Make your own list!

To facilitate this, I just created an online poll.

This poll will be up until the end of the year, and I'll publish the results on January 1. I really want to hear from you, dear readers. Let your voice be heard!


(This photo has nothing to do with the poll. I just wanted to publish it on my blog before the end of the year.)


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Robert Boyd's 2011 Honorable Mention

All of the shows listed below were excellent, and on a different day, I might have placed any one of them in the top 10.

Lisa Gralnick: The Gold Standard at Center for Contemporary Craft. This was a very interesting show that included sculptures made of plaster and gold--where the percent of gold was determined by how much gold it would take to buy the thing depicted.

Stephanie Toppin's couch in Jim Peterson, Jr.'s garage

Stephanie Toppin's couch. Of all the things associated with the Art Car Parade this year, this is my favorite. After the parade, Toppin's couch was lost for several months until I happened to find it at Jim Peterson, Jr.'s house. Mystery solved!

The Time Travel Research Institute Presents by Patrick Turk at Art League. Instead of his usual dense psychedelic collages, Turk made these pieces have a sense of physical space and even added motion to some. Mindblowing.

Jim Nolan, Today is Tomorrow at Art Palace. Jim Nolan's art is what happens when minimalism goes downscale. Made often from items purchased at 99¢ Only stores, it is the perfect art for our belt-tightening times.

Jim Woodring, Lazy Robinson, charcoal on paper

Jim Woodring and Marc Bell, Walpurgis Afternoon at Lawndale. I'm picking a show I curated, which is a bit unfair. What can I say? I thought it was great--two cartooonists/painters whose work I've admired for decades, and between whom I felt there was a connection. It seemed natural.

Raul Gonzalez, More Work Ahead, ink and spray paint on floor laminate, 2010

Raul Gonzalez at the Caroline Collective. Raul Gonzalez is a real street artist--and by that, he paints Houston's streets and uses as motifs street signs. Indeed, the colors of street signs pervade his work. He has created the vision of Houston that seems most true.

Myke Venable, MV 25 Silver/Scarlet Red/Black, acrylic on canvas, 2011

Myke Venable at Sonia Roesch. The only way these paintings could be more minimal would be to turn them from two or three color paintings to one-color paintings. As a consequence of their minimal content, they lack autonomy--they collaborate, in a sense, with the room they're in. And that's what I like about them.

Southern/Pacific at Lawndale. Really lovely show filled with interesting pieces curated by recent transplant to Houston, Paul Middendorf. This was road-trip art--he picked up art in Portland, Oregon (where he used to live) and Marfa and finally Houston. It was a fine way to introduce Houston art viewers to some interesting out-of-towners.

Hagit Barkai, Aisen and Tyson, Oil on canvas, 2010

Hagit Barkai, Resistance at Nau-Haus. Hagit Barkai's paintings linger in my mind. It's not the extreme one, the ones showing highly distressed people--although those are good. It's piece like Aisen and Tyson and Home More or Less that stick with me.

Dennis Harper and Friends, iPageant at the Joanna. This show was a giant performance extravaganza. Dennis Harper constructed some of his patented oversized paper sculptures--this time of a 60s era television soundstage. It was within this construct, aided by multiple closed-circuit televisions, that Harper staged his variety show. I only hope it wasn't a one-time event.

Ward Sanders at Hooks Epstein. San Antonio artist Ward Sanders has had four shows at Hooks-Epstein, but for this one, he added a new element. In addition to his mysterious, lovingly-created boxes, he has a piece of text. It turns out his writing, at least in these short fragments, is excellent. The world of visual art could lose Sanders to the literary world.

Ibsen Espada, Reformulaciones at New Gallery. One of the original Fresh Paint artists, Espada has apparently laid low for a while. This show was a powerful (and hopefully triumphal) return. Muscular abstractions.

Sharon Engelstein's Green Golly got its own room at Pan Y Circos

Pan y Circos at PG Contemporary. Curated by yours truly. We had a huge space for this group show, and it turned out great. I am especially proud to have brought El Dinersito by Jorge Galvan to the attention of Houston's art crowd.

Robert Pruitt, You Are Your Own Twin at Hooks Epstein. Every time I've seen Pruitt's portraits, I've loved them. There seems to be a rising generation of artists and intellectuals who are heavily invested in African American identity and history and simultaneously into science fiction and gaming and other nerdy pursuits. For example, the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. And Robert Pruitt.

Kim Dingle at Front Gallery. The Front Gallery is Houston's newest gallery, and its smallest. The inaugural show, full of oil-sketches of hyper-active girls, was a fantastic beginning.

Lisa Qualls, absence at Koelsch. Here is a highly conceptual show (portraits of an ancestor who left behind no visual image) that is simultaneously highly personal. I found it quite moving.


Robert Boyd's Worst of 2011

by Robert Boyd

Not every show can be a good show. And some--a lot, really--are pretty damn bad. This isn't really a list of all the worst exhibits from last year. There are some venues that almost never put up good art. I don't see much value in pointing this out. Therefore, everything listed here is from an institution that should have known better. Not only were these shows bad, they were disappointing.

Walter de Maria, Trilogies at the Menil. I thought the rods through the Bel Airs were kind of nice, but it ultimately seemed like de Maria was leaching off the art of the classic automobile while adding the slightest piece of himself to it. The Statement Series paintings were merely banal. Ultimately I agree with the sentiment that this show was "a 25 cent idea with a million dollar budget."

Rod Northcutt's Indigenous Genius at Art League. This is a case where an artist had an idea that must have initially then seemed clever and beat it into the ground. The notion of beavers as indigenous artists, in addition to being kind of an insult to the real issues surrounding indigenous art, was like a one page comic strip in Mad Magazine inflated until it popped. The feeble concept simply could not sustain a major art exhibit.

Tara Conley and Tria Wood, My Life As a Doll at Diverseworks. I hate to include this show on the "worst" list because I like Tara Conley's work (her show at Laura Rathe Fine Arts was really good). But the overblown execution of this piece, combined with the smug and condescending content, was awful. It was heavy-handed preaching to the choir.

This is Displacement, curated by Carolyn Lee Anderson and Emily Johnson at Diverseworks. Most of the art in this group exhibit of Native American artists was simply bad and some of it seemed amateurish. Diverseworks' description of the show was that it "offers audiences multiple views of displacement from indigenous perspectives and encourages dialogue and critical commentary on the intersections of art and identity." I say, in order to accomplish something like this, it has to reach a minimal level of artistic competency, which it didn't.

Patricia Hernandez, Parody of Light by Patricia Hernandez. A parody should have the ability to show us the emperor's naked fat ass, to show us the cliches and bad faith in a piece of art. This show smugly told a bunch of sophisticated art fans what they already know--that Thomas Kinkade is an awful artist and a crass person. This was not a revelation that required an entire gallery.

The Spectacular of Vernacular, curated by Darsie Alexander at the CAMH. Pablo Helguera once wrote that for curators stuck for an idea, they should "a) open a dictionary and point a finger to any page randomly; b) take the 'selected' word as the topic of the exhibition and search Google using this word along with the phrase "contemporary art"; c) generate a preliminary artist list based on the names that will come up from the mentioning of this subject." (Manual of Contemporary Art Style). This curatorial algorithm is what I thought of when I saw this show.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Robert Boyd's Best of 2011

by Robert Boyd

There were lots of enjoyable exhibits and performances this year. It's really hard to choose the best--it's even hard to choose my favorites because they keep changing. Ask me in three months, and my list might be different. That said, below are my list of my 10 favorite 2011 exhibits in Houston as of December 21, 2011 (plus a long list of honorable mentions). The shows below are not listed in any sort of ranked order. Each was excellent in its own way.

John Wood and Paul Harrison, video stills

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Answers to Questions at CAMH. I don't dislike video art, but sometimes I find it tedious to look at in a museum or gallery setting. It is a credit both to these hilarious but deadpan videos and to the CAMH's exhibit design that I sat for hours and watched Wood and Harrison's videos.

Charles LeDray, Hole, fabric, thread, plastic, wood, metal, 19 1/4 x 13 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, 1998

Charles LeDray, workworkworkworkworkwork at MFA. A Houston art world figure called this show "disgusting." But I loved it. It thought it was rich and beautifully wrought. The empty suits spoke of absence--which as they were made at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s is appropriate. The little sculptures and tableaux appeal to me in a visceral way. I visited this show several times.

Havel-Ruck Projects, Torrent at the Houston Permitting Center

Houston Permitting Center. This will be the subject of a post in the next few days. Not all art happens in galleries or museums. In this case, Studio Red took an old warehouse and turned it into a fairly fantastic city building. But what gets it on the top 10 is the art by Dick Wray, Serena Lin Bush, Jesse Sifuentes, Kaneem Smith, Geoff Winningham, Metalab Studio, Havel-Ruck Projects, Agnes Welsh Eyster, GONZO 247 and artist/curator Mary Margaret Hansen. It's like there was another museum in Houston that you never heard of.

Man Bartlett puts a price on your dreams at Skydive

Man Bartlett #24hclerk at Skydive. For a 24-hour period, you could Tweet your dreams to Man Bartlett. He would ponder your dream for a couple of minutes, then announce its price. He would set a price gun to that price and put a label with that price on a large piece of white paper on the wall. (Meanwhile, Nancy Douthey sat off to the side transcribing the proceedings on an old electric typewriter.) A camera captured the action live on Bartlett's website. I loved this idea and enjoyed dipping in from time to time during the day as he kept on pricing dreams from around the world. I came to see him in person at Skydive at the very beginning of the performance and the very end.

Exurb, Input/Output at the Joanna

Exurb, Input/Output at the Joanna. This was a large, multichannel digital/analog sound sculpture by Exurb, a five person collective. It was loud and weird and I loved it. Yet another example of technological art, I loved that it employed both archaic analog electronics with cutting edge software.

Mark Flood, Another Painting, fluorescent paint

Mark Flood at Cardoza Gallery. For years I had wanted to see Flood's art, but he had no gallery in Houston. So while people in Berlin and New York could see his work, I could only see jpegs. Until this show. And it not only lived up to my expectations, it blew them away.

Larassa Kabel, Any Minute Now, Bay, colored pencil on paper, 2011.

Larassa Kabal at Peel Gallery. How Peel Gallery found this relatively obscure Iowa artist, I don't know. But these beautifully rendered life-size drawings of horses falling are not likely to be forgotton once you've seen them. Unnerving yet beautiful, this was a small show with a large impact.

Jeremy DePrez, 5 out of 194 Countries I Have Never Been To, oil and acrylic on canvas with country selection assistance by, 2011

33rd School of Art Masters Thesis Exhibition at the Blaffer. Some of my favorite artists in town got their MFAs this year--Francis Giampietro, Britt Ragsdale, Emily Peacock, and Jeremy DePrez. Seeing them all together showing some of their best work (along with excellent work by other grads) was terrific. 

Natural Resources by The Bridge Club

The Bridge Club, Natural Resources at Lawndale. While the idea behind this performance seemed a little obvious, that was beside the point. What mattered was the staging--the identical costumes of the four performers, the hyper-deliberate, slow movements of each performer, the low lighting, the glass jars. It was a dream-like, hypnotic performance, and I fell in love with Annie Strader, Christine Owen, Emily Bivens and Julie Wills (or at least fell in love with their characters) as I watched.

Lane Hagood, Detourned Bust, mass-produced statuary, foam, acrylic paint, 2010

Lane Hagood, The Museum of Eterna at the Joanna. I've been a fan of Hagood's since I first saw his work at Gallery 1724. This show was like a museum, with each room dedicated to a different artist who all happened to be Lane Hagood. This Fernando Pessoa-like strategy worked brilliantly--it allowed him to try wildly different approaches to working. This show reinforced Hagood's literary side. As a bookish guy myself, I love that Hagood is a bookworm.

When I look at this list, I can see it says a lot more about me and my tastes than anything else. I don't claim to have an absolute conception of "good art." I'm not Clement Greenberg, and thank god for that. I'm more of a follower of Thomas McEvilley, who thinks the best you can hope for is an educated personal taste. I think  we saw that with the best shows as chosen by the Houston art community. Between their top six list and my top 10, there was only one overlapping choice. This is not to say everyone's opinion is equal, but even among people who know a lot about art and who have well-developed tastes, there is little consensus.

Next up--Honorable Mentions, shows I liked a lot but that didn't make the top 10. and the Worst Shows of 2011.