Saturday, September 29, 2012

Become a Friend of Pan Art Fair

The Pan Art Fair is two galleries, two artists, and one slightly crazy blog publisher in one hotel suite. But maybe you think, hey, I could get a suite myself. Maybe I could have my own tiny satellite art fair. If that's what you're thinking, I like the way you think!

The Embassy Suites in downtown Houston

Therefore I want to make a modest offer. If anyone else rents a suite at Embassy Suites during the days October 18-21 for the purpose of exhibiting art, I will list it here on The Great God Pan Is Dead and on a page on the Pan Art Fair website. No obligation--just some comradely co-promotion. If you are an artist or a group of artists reading this blog and within driving distance of Houston, think about doing a hotel room show at the Embassy Suites during the Texas Contemporary Art Fair. If enough of us do this, we'll have a really interesting alternative art happening.

So any artist displaying at the Embassy Suites at the same time we do shall be known as a Friend of the Pan Art Fair--first class. And if anyone else wants to be listed as a friend of the Pan Art Fair, let me know! 


Exploring what is visible but unseen to Regina Agu

Dean Liscum

Regina Agu's show Visible Unseen is the sixth exhibition in Fresh Art's 2012 ARC Exhibition series. The show both exemplifies its title and more than holds its own in this impressive series, which showcases emerging Houston artists.

I spoke with Regina Agu at the opening. She is lithe, graceful, unassuming, and very approachable. She casually and confidently interacted with the audience, patiently and repeatedly providing context about the pieces and answering audience member's questions. Often, I heard her repeat herself because her work invites inquiry. We the viewers, however, frequently had the same thoughts but didn't have enough foresight to approach her en masse and let her answer our inquiries just once.

Despite having talked with her at length about "...biological, historical and scientific references coupled with current event commentary (through a) present day lens" (to quote a post by Nathaniel Donnett on the events FB page), I wouldn't have known she was a graduate of Cornell with a Bachelor of Science in Policy Analysis and Management or a world traveler. Nevertheless, I should have. Not because she's wearing a Cornell cap or beginning every other sentence with "when I was studying Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell..." or "...the last time I flew into Lagos..", but because a definite mental acuity and worldliness permeated her conversation. In other words, it's all there, visible but unseen.

Her art work in this exhibition is the same. The works are about disparity of medical ethics employed by physicians on various ethnic groups, the ownership and origination of knowledge, and the cultural and personal vs. the stereotypical. However, when you first approach them, that's not necessarily your first impression. The works are also meticulously crafted and beautiful and reticent to reveal their themes. But if you spend some time with the art and the artist, if you dig, they open up and reveal themselves.

I dug--with a lot of help from Agu--and here's what I discovered.

The series began with the work "Night Doctors", which was originally created for the show entitled "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Response by African-American Artists" at Mountain View College in Dallas, TX. The show was in response to and in support of the publication of the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. In this book, Skloot reveals how after Lacks' death from cervical cancer, doctors took tissue samples without her or her family's knowledge or permission. The medical community then developed those cells into the HeLa Immortal Cell Line, which has been used to develop cures and make advances in cancer, AIDS, and other research.

Regina Agu, Night Doctors No. 1 

Another chapter in the book, "Night Doctors," from which the seminal work in this series derives its name, details how fear tactics were used on slaves to perform experimental procedures and reveals the trafficking from the South to the North of slave corpses for medical resources.  (Agu summarizes it much better than I on her blog.)

Informed by these facts, I realized that in a number of pieces in which she uses bibliography pages from medical text, what I was witnessing is an aesthetic act of reclamation.

Regina Agu, The People Could Fly 

The People Could Fly is a perfect example of employing formalist elements and collage to "explore hidden and forgotten histories". She imposes a metaphorical figure composed of repurposed images on to the bibliography of a medical text. Gold paint blocks out all the names, dates and studies from which this knowledge originates. By systematically eliding all the knowledge attribution from these medical documents, Agu imbues the work with a gilded formalism. Her aesthetic choices are more than merely formalist decisions about how to balance the composition. These marks challenge the fallacy that knowledge originates from the work or insight of a single individual (a theme that John Lienhard often ridicules in his series the Engines of our Ingenuity). They also attempt to restore credit to the patients and participants of these medical experiments by denying the medical myths perpetrated by these attributions. Symbolically, she eliminates from the history books those credited with the medical discoveries in the same way many of them discounted or explicitly eliminated the contribution of their marginalized patients.

Regina Agu, Introduction to ... 

In Introduction to... Agu "doctors" the stately portrait photos of many of the doctors who engaged in this socially accepted but exploitative practice. The aesthetic choices made in Dental Records (Heirlooms) exemplify the power of Agu's techniques. I love the way in which the light blue, alphabetic separator for Js underlines the gilded teeth and anchors the piece.

Regina Agu, Dental Records (Heirlooms) 

Oracle is superficially beautiful, but ultimately unnervingly eerie. At first glance, the female figure is mesmerizing. However, upon closer inspection, the cutting up and segmenting of the body in the image invokes the memories of all the bodies parts that were experimented upon. Agu's Oracle predicts a cure, but it also illustrates the cost to those involved in developing that cure. It alludes to the fact that at one level the medical community treated the bodies of African-Americans and other ethnic groups as bodies of parts that were merely parts of experiments.

Regina Agu, Oracle 

Another group of Agu's works uses similar techniques to address an alternative theme, that of the stereotypical vs. the personal. In this series of collages, I see Agu "excavate ideas and rituals that [she] inherit from family, from our backgrounds, and from our most basic instincts" as she declares in her artist statement. In works such as A Rare Specimen - Mami Wata Suite No. 3, Agu uses collage to combine the contemporary with the traditional, personalizing her rendition of Mami Wata, a spiritual-mythical figure that embodies African beauty.

Regina Agu, A Rare Specimen - Mami Wata Suite No. 3 

Guaranteed Wax Block Prints plays off a claim that all fabric makers in Nigeria make because of the prevalence of cheap knock offs.

Regina Agu, Guaranteed Wax Block Prints

Regina Agu, installation at Fresh Arts 

Her one installation continues the theme of discovering through uncovering. In it she has covered one wall of the gallery with personal pictures from her childhood and her travels. Over the course of the exhibition, she will cut-tear-rip a familiar textile pattern from her childhood in Nigeria into the pictures. This act personalizes and reclaims the fabric pattern for herself as she not only re-creates it with her hands, but creates it out of her own images and memories.

I certainly plan to return before the show ends on October 26, 2012 and see what emerges. I recommend attending her Artist Talk at the Artist SPEAKeasy: Wednesday, October 17, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

(Thanks to Jenni Rebecca Stephenson from Fresh Arts for coordinating and Regina Agu for providing all the photos except the last one.)


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pan Recommends for the week of September 27 through October 3

Here's what's got us excited this week.

Joseph Cohen: Ten Propositions at Peveto, 5–7 pm, Thursday, September 27, 2012. We quite liked his mini-show at HFAF recently, and this looks like it may be more in that series.

Ten Years Till Tomorro by Anderson + Medrano at Gallery M Squared, 7–9 pm, Thursday, September 27, 2012. Artistic collaborators and Fodice Foundation founders with a show of photos (and who knows what else).

CraftTexas 2012 at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 5:30–8 pm, Friday, September 28. Forty artists are displayed in this biennial juried exhibit, which should be great. Among the artists included are local favorites Edward Lane McCartney and Catherine Winkler Rayroud.

Hillevi Baar: Ambrosia at PG Contemporary, 6–9 pm, Friday, September 28. Baar's work seems quite varied, so I have no idea what to expect from this show.

Mustafa Davis: The Warm Heart of Africa at Eldorado Ballroom @ Project Row Houses, 12–3 pm, Saturday, September 29. A documentary about Malawi by photographer/filmmaker Mustapha Davis.

Surrender Dorothy: Painting into Collage, 1960's through 2000 by Dorothy Hood at New Gallery/Thom Andriola, 6–8 pm, Saturday, September 29. One of Houston's all time greats gets a solo show. Her Clifford Still-esque paintings are well-worth seeing.


Aaron Parazette Keeps You Off Balance

Robert Boyd

Aaron Parazette's show at the Art League, Flyaway, includes on very large wall piece and six modestly-sized paintings. The difference in scale is so vast that it's really hard to see anything but Flyaway, the wall piece, when you walk into the gallery. It is facing the viewer and grabs your attention in such a way that it might be a number of minutes before you turn around and notice the other work.

Aaron Parazette, Flyaway, 2012, acrylic wall painting, 7' x 56'

Flyaway wraps around two walls. Each wall has a focal point where several lines converge. The intersections of these lines, and the edge of the painting itself, form flat geometric shapes. Parazette fills each geometric shape with a color form a narrow palette--dark green light green, dark blue, medium blue, light blue, black and white. This deliberate limiting of colors has been a prominent aspect of his art for a while now. The title of his current series of paintings, Color Key, refers to it. At his last solo exhibit, I found this approach a bit boring. But by putting it on the wall at this scale, Parazette changes the whole dynamic. Size matters. At this scale, the straight lines of the wall painting engage with the straight lines where the floor and ceiling meets the walls, and where two walls meet each other. The triangles and trapezoids echo the perspective space of the room. You are enveloped by the painting just as you are enveloped by the gallery itself. Flyaway loses the autonomy of an individual easel painting, but gains a dialogue with the architecture. Too many colors might have spoiled that dialogue. That was one thing the minimalists realized--keep it simple and suddenly it's not about the art object as an autonomous thing, it's about the viewer, the architecture, the object and their ever shifting relationships with one another. And that's what you get with Flyaway.

Aaron Parazette, Color Key 33, 2012, acrylic on linen, 15" x 22"

So the question is, how do the smaller paintings hold up against Flyaway? You have pieces like Color Key 33, with an even more restrained palette, where everything feels perfectly balanced in this perfect ellipse. This work is completely pleasant but not very exciting. The point that draws my eye and prevents it form being a work of dull perfection is the tangent pint in the upper right, where four lines converge at the edge of the canvas. They teach you not to do this in art school, and the way it pulls you in is why. It's the kind of rule-breaking you need to make this painting work.

Aaron Parazette, Color Key 36, 2012, acrylic on linen, 17" x 32"

Color Key 36 and Color Key 37 are interesting because they suggest three dimensions. They come across as orthographic projections and remind me a little bit of Al Held. And as with Al Held, there is a tension between viewing them as three-dimensional objects and a two-dimensional surface. The paintings don't allow you to make an easy choice between the two modes of seeing. It seems like an interesting departure for Parazette. But what I like most about them are the almost vibratory outlines of the various triangles and rectangles. The green shapes in Color Key 36 get a narrow orange outline, and the white shapes get a pinkish outline. The colors of the outlines shift as they are placed against larger areas of color (sky blue, black, white, yellow-green and a darker green). This shifting is what holds my attention here because even more than the ambiguously three-dimensional shapes, the shifting, vibrating outlines fail to resolve--and that is very interesting to look at. (Of course, these jpegs fail to do them justice.)

Aaron Parazette, Color Key 37, 2012, acrylic on linen, 20" x 15"

Each of these paintings has one further feature that helps to keep the viewer off balance--they aren't symmetrical. So despite a severely minimized number of visual elements, these Color Key paintings have tricky, unexpected elements. Looking at them is a little like listening to Thelonious Monk--they seem formal and austere but they repeatedly hit you with something unexpected.

Aaron Parazette, Color Key 34, 2012, acrylic on linen, 34" x 24"

This effect is especially pronounced with Color Key 34, which looks like it really wants to be a very well-balanced symmetrical composition. Parazette's imp of the perverse won't let the viewer off that easy. Again we have the narrow colorful outlines, which take on all the more significance in this otherwise grey-tone painting. And the arrangement of the partial circles on the canvas, which feels rational, in fact continually seeks to roll the whole thing to the right.

With deliberately limited means, Parazette plays little games with his viewers. The result is highly engaging and pleasurable. And I also want to recommend the catalog that the Art League published to accompany this exhibit. In it, we get to see a small sampling of earlier Parazette work. I was pretty much completely unfamiliar with anything before the "splash paintings" from the late 1990s and was therefore pretty surprised to see where this formalist game-player had come from. Suffice it to say, the game-playing has been there all along.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pan Art Fair

Robert Boyd

Art fairs inspire strong feelings in people. Some artists hate them because they are so nakedly capitalist and are essentially flea markets for the ruling class. (These artists prefer to get paid by non-profit organizations, which shields them from the responsibility of knowing where the money's coming from.) Some galleries hate them because they are expensive and risky and force gallerists to become bazaar hagglers. Some fair goers hate the food (me!) and hate the bad, loud, art fair art (me again!). Some artists hate art fairs because they will only let galleries display work (artists can't buy a booth solo) and some galleries hate art fairs because they are too expensive for said gallery to attend.

But I also like art fairs. I like being able to see a bunch of galleries (and a big bunch of art) all at once. I like being able to see out-of-town galleries. I grew up going to comic book conventions, and art fairs are basically the same thing, except more expensive, more fashionable and less nerdy. They are places where you and a lot of your friends come together to look at art and hang out. And that's not a bad thing.

That's why I decided to put on my own art fair. The Pan Art Fair will be held from October 18 to the 21 (the same time as the Texas Contemporary Art Fair) in a suite at the Embassy Suites downtown, right across the street from Discovery Green. I'll have two individual artists and two galleries exhibiting:
Artist Exhibitors
Lane Hagood
Emily Peacock

Gallery Exhibitors
Front Gallery
Cardoza Fine Art
I won't know the room number until just before the fair, but check our Facebook page or website for updates.

Ever since Houston got not one but two mainstream art fairs, I have thought we needed some counterprogramming. The Pan Art Fair will be a real art fair, with artwork for sale to any collector with brave eyes. And I hope it will be seen as an alternative to the big boys in town.

And a final note to all artists reading this--renting a suite at the Embassy Suites is not all that expensive. If four artists get together, they could rent a suite for the entire length of TCAF for about $250 apiece. The Pan Art Fair will be there; why not you? Let 1000 flowers and alternative art fairs bloom!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Unmaking a Grotto with Kia Neill

by Dean Liscum

Kia Neill's geodes have gone through several permutations from their installation into Cave at DiverseWorks in 2008 to a grander, more elaborate setting in Grotto at Lawndale Art Center in 2009 and then to their most recent home at Box 13. But as with Whitney Riley's installation My Weltanschauung, which inaugurated the space, Neill's Grotto had its time and it was now time to go.

Neill decided to get creative and turned the de-installation into an event. On Saturday, September 22, friends, fellow artists, and collectors dropped by from 1 to 4 p.m. to help "Break the Big Geode." I dropped by to provide moral support (a.k.a. take pictures and try not to get in the way) and a sneak a peek at the substructure of this installation.

Kia Neill and Bill 

On average, Neill confessed that the geode piece took a week to install. It consisted of a wooden frame, hundreds of lights, and the canvas-foam-paper sections that made up the exterior of the cave walls. De-constructing the cave took her, Bill, Anton, and a few itinerant volunteers about half a day of cutting the cave sections from the scaffolding and then unscrewing the wooden frame.

In this game of rock-paper-scissors, the scissors won. 

Much like you'd expect to see at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, Neill set up a table of cave sections, smaller geodes, and pictures so that people of every price range could partake in the installation.

Geodes for sale, cooler not 

geodes and photos Most of the installation was re-purposed. 

The cave sections, which ranged from 1-3 ft. wide and 1-3 ft. high, were sold. The wood framing was designated as fuel for a ceramic kiln.

cave section for sale 

Sections of the cave, some glittery, some not 

Neill didn't officially name a "best volunteer" of the event, but my vote goes to Bill. Not only was he a workhorse with the power tools, he also brought homemade chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were crucial for my experience of the event because you can really build up an appetite watching people work construction.

crowbar finesse 

Anton gets honorable mention if only because he explained how to use a bike as a weapon of self-defense if someone tries to mug you while you're out cycling.

Bill and Anton breaking good. 

I thought the crystals were illuminated by magic. Turns out it was Christmas lights. 

A lot of attention in the art world focuses on the end product. The term "Object d'art" isn't an accident. This event was enlightening because it invited non-artists to view and experience (if they were up for it) the physical labor (a.k.a. grunt work) that artist do everyday. I've been to a lot of closing parties, but never one where I got to break stuff, acquire a small piece of a very large installation, and eat homemade chocolate chip cookies while being serenaded by a power drill.

For me, it was a sweet, sparkly success.


Joseph Cohen: A Closer Look

By Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Over the course of two articles packed with images and written in his unfailingly sardonic style, Robert Boyd reviewed the Houston Fine Arts Fair. Boyd’s first article covering art he “loathed” was lacerating. “Inept,” “hideous,” “gimmicky,” “bad is bad,” “distressingly common,” “utter vacuity,” “endless banality,” were just a few of its asperities. While I was cringing, Boyd published his second article about the art he “liked,” included in which was Joseph Cohen’s Proposition 357, a sculptural and strangely colored painting championed by the critic as possessing an “unearthly flavor.”

Others share Boyd’s regard for Cohen’s art. Aaron Parazette for instance included Cohen in In Plain Sight, an important show of 40 Houston painters currently at McClain Gallery, promoted by Catherine Anspon in her glossy mag as “the most significant roundup of Houston painting talent in double decades.” Wade Wilson bestowed upon Cohen a solo exhibition at Wade Wilson Art in January of this year, following several years of the same. And Peveto on Colquitt Street will be exhibiting Cohen’s work in the exhibition Ten Propositions, scheduled to open on September 27. Concentrated gallery representation and critical attention made me want to take a closer look at Joseph Cohen’s art.

Joseph Cohen, Proposition 357, 2012, Pigment, diamond dust, varnish on birch, 29" x 23" (exhibited at the Houston Fine Arts Fair)

There was no better way to begin this profile than to ambush Parazette and ask the reason he included Cohen in In Plain Sight. “I have known of and been interested in Joseph's work for the past few years,” Parazette said, “and included him in the show because he represents a very particular type of painter: process oriented and drawing on a sort of paint alchemy. In his working process he seems to set the paint in motion and then--while guiding it to some degree--he lets it find it's own conclusions on the way to being, a delicate and sensitive balance between an artist and his materials. When it succeeds the results are both beautiful and magical.”

As expected, Cohen has inspired lofty meditations. Houston’s illustrious writers enjoy framing his art against the Concrete painting movement, characterizing it as neither a form of representation nor abstracted or distilled from something else, existing solely as color and physical matter. They make comparisons to Joseph Marioni and Robert Ryman and discuss philosophical underpinnings. Some critics veered into the topics of Spinoza and infinity. Everybody gets to feel smart. About this categorization, Cohen said his art is “partially aligned” with concrete art.

“Partially” denotes Cohen might be up to something broader and more complex than simply adhering to definitions of concrete art. Some of the Italian works exhibited in January, one shown below, point to this. Defined by formal properties, derived from no source and referencing none, they relate to the concrete, yet seem to have a conceptual element as well as representational qualities through associations with antiquities and architecture. Robert Boyd picked up on dual essence back in January 2010 when he reviewed Cohen’s exhibition at Wade Wilson. “Cohen is not forging a path of the concrete, he’s exploring a path away from concrete art,” Boyd wrote.

As was Cohen’s intention, the art’s physical properties catapulted Boyd into an emotional experience with color and light. “The end result is a group of paintings that are interesting to think about,” Boyd wrote, “but more importantly, are visually stunning. Cohen’s handling of this plastic paint and oddball colors is beautiful, and his thick, textural painting is positively chewy….Cohen may not be a concrete purist, but he is all about giving his viewers real visual pleasure.”

Joseph Cohen, Proposition 260, 2011, Reclaimed paint, gold, lapis lazuli, pigment, varnish, and oil on panel, about 29 x 23 (Exhibited in January 2012)

VBAWere the Ten Propositions you made for Peveto created after the art you made in Italy and exhibited in January 2012, meaning are the Ten Propositions your newest works, and if so do they involve any new process or source of inspiration?

JC - The Ten Propositions to be exhibited at Peveto were made after the Italian works. They are the newest works and incorporate aspects of the Italian works (the incorporation of precious materials), while developing on the framework of my working practice as well. My works in a sense are hybrid painting/sculptures. They are physical objects that are heavily entrenched in the history and activity of painting. The Ten Propositions will express the two fundamental natures of my chosen medium (paint): the physical and the chromatic. Some of the works' "aboutness" will reside predominantly in the physical tactile nature of the medium, while others will deal predominantly with the chromatic nature of the medium. The forms of the work will have a direct relationship with the architecture that the work exists in. There will be a newfound sense of playfulness in some of the works and the manner in which they engage the space around them.

VBAI want to better understand your process, materials and application. So let’s take for example Proposition 333 which will be exhibited at Peveto. My press release listed pigment, diamond dust and varnish on birch as its materials. What are the pigments?

JC – The pigments are cadmium, ruby, lapis lazuli, and cobalt.

VBAHow many layers?

JC - Literally hundreds of layers, all brushed on layer by layer.

VBAWhat in the world is diamond dust?

JC - 22 kt. gold, platinum, and silver.

VBAHow do you see the role of the unconscious mind in your work? Do you proceed in an intuitive spontaneous, manner, an altered state, or stream of consciousness-like manner – do any of these apply? Interpret the mental process.

JC - I see the mental process embracing an active engagement with the act of painting. Through the activity of physically engaging with the art over a period of time, the work becomes a historical record of the activity of painting. For me this is an important aspect to the work and signals to the importance of the role of the artist's hand in the creative process. There is a level of intimacy that becomes ingrained in the work through this approach. The sincerity of this method of working also subtly asks for the viewer to approach and engage with the art object in an active manner. When viewed from different angles and perspectives the works will shift the viewer's perception.

VBA - Is there anything you want to add to all the fuss, anything you want to say, want people to know about you, your career or the Ten Props at Peveto?

JC - I simply would ask the viewers to look at the works. Take time and view them from different angles and times of the day (as a shift in light begets a different feel from the work and may alter a preconceived notion of how the painting exists). My works call for a slowing down, allowing for a calming respite in which one may contemplate. When the works are seen as physical objects in this world (not trying to represent nor abstract from anything in this physical world) they are more accurately realized and may in turn serve as metaphors and/or aids in our existence.

Joseph Cohen, Proposition 333, 2012, Pigment, (cadmium, ruby, lapis lazuli, cobalt), diamond dust, (22kt gold, platinum, silver,) and varnish on birch, 34" x 27" 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pan Recommends for the week of September 20 through September 26

The staff of Pan recommends the following artistic happenings for your viewing pleasure.

Lode Runner by Mike Beradino at Emergency Room at 7 pm, Thursday, September 20. I'm not sure I quite understand the description of this work by Rice visiting lecturer Mike Beradino, so I'm just going to reproduce it here: "This work is a virtual currency-mining rig, utilizing a computer that is dedicated to the production of a type of money called BitCoin. These BitCoins are collected, then exchanged for real gold, resulting in a sculpture that produces a growing pile of gold." That doesn't sound quite as fun as popping balloons with a laser, but I'm intrigued!

Breaking the Big Geode! by Kia Neill at Box 13, Saturday, September 22, 1 to 4 pm. If you ever wanted to construct you own Sleestak environment, now's your chance to acquire some glowy cave walls. Kia Neill has installed various versions of her cave in venues in Houston and Austin, and is now disassembling it for the last time. But you can buy chunks of it pretty cheap!

Galapagos by {Exurb} at El Rincón Social from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday (September 22). Three members of artist collective {exurb} will be locked in El Rincón Social building an as yet undetermined installation. And you can watch!

Text of Light at the Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex at 7:30 pm Saturday, September 22. Text of Light is a group of musicians formed in 2001 for the specific purpose of improvising to the films of Stan Brakhage. The musicians are Tim Barnes (Louisville) on drums, Ulrich Krieger (Los Angeles) on saxophone & electronics, Alan Licht (New York) on guitar, and Lee Ranaldo (New York) guitar. The word that comes to mind is "rad!"

Visible Unseen by Regina Agu at the Spacetaker ARC at 6 pm, Saturday, September 22. Nine drawings and collages (featuring images from vintage biology and medical texts) by Regina Agu will be displayed. Her work is described as being roted in her interest in "mythology, futurism, science-fiction, and scientific frameworks," which sounds pretty cool to me.

On Walden Pond group exhibit at Rudolph Blume at 6 pm, Saturday, September 22. Featuring work by Martin Amorous, Joanne Brigham, Tudor Mitroi & Seth Mittag, who ask what would escaping to Walden Pond and living life deliberately look like today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Border Paintings

Robert Boyd

Ray Smith isn't exactly an artist who I would expect to create large flat abstract paintings. His other work is figurative and has a neo-expressionist feel. But something about working with G.T. Pellizzi has allowed for a different artistic persona to emerge. The pieces in this show are austere. They suggest empty landscapes with sparse population. Quite unlike the Ray Smith carnival one finds on his website.

G.T. Pellizzi and Ray Smith, untitled (Border Painting), acrylic, earth, dried vegetation, 138" x 96"

G.T. Pellizzi's solo work, as far as I can tell, is also a a bit less barren that the paintings in this show (although not figurative like Smith's paintings). And in their other collaboaration, The Execution of Maximilian, where the process of making the pieces was ambiguously macho (shooting shotguns at cans of paint), the resulting works were literally splashy abstractions.

Smith is from South Texas and his family owns a ranch, Yturria Ranch, there. Pellizzi is from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and works both in the U.S. and Mexico. While their collaboration is relatively new, the artists have known each other for a long time. Given Smith's own border-land origins and Pellizzi's immigrant status, it seems natural that they would be attracted to "the border" as a subject. While the work in The Execution of Maximilian addressed more sensational aspects of the border (narco violence, machismo, the tradition of the gentleman hunter, etc.), the paintings in this show address the land itself.

 G.T. Pellizzi and Ray Smith, untitled (Border Painting), acrylic, earth, dried vegetation, 138" x 96"

The large, spare sandy paintings look like segments of flat, barren desert as seen from above. They each come across as a specific portrait of a precise 96 square foot area of ground. It is the act of putting them up on the wall vertically that is so surprising. They feel like they should be floor pieces. On the wall, our perspective changes and it's as if we, the viewers, are floating above the earth--not too high, but not with our feet on the ground. We are forced to se the ground differently; something we might normally pay little attention becomes our focus.

G.T. Pellizzi and Ray Smith, untitled (Border Painting), found fencing, acrylic, earth, dried vegetation, 94" x 93"

Pellizzi and Smith aren't willing to let you off scott free to contemplate the Earth. The big, somewhat blank Border Paintings allow one to imagine a desert devoid of human population. And while parts of the border are very sparesly populated, it's never completely untouched. Using scrap material and fencing reminds us of this. Fencing may remind us of the border fence, but more prosaically the fences people put up to establish property lines, to keep livestock from getting lost, etc. Barriers. It breaks up the land which Pellizzi and Smith are portraying.

G.T. Pellizzi and Ray Smith, Border Sign, electric light, found material construction, 97" x 97"

The worn wood and cut up tires that make up Border Sign tells us people are here, but the work conveys loneliness. The blank non-communication of the sign suggests a laconic race of people. They don't have much to say and there aren't to many other folks to say it to anyway. This kind of approach validates a cliche we have of the area, one which certainly isn't completely true. But given The Execution of Maximilian, the two artists may be working through such cliches of the border one by one. These preconceptions can be powerfully expressive--I think you see that in the work of James Drake or the writing of Dagoberto Gilb. And given Smith's deep roots in the area, I can forgive him for misdemeanor stereotype-mongering. The work is too strange and too strong to be undermined by that.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Art I Liked at the Houston Fine Arts Fair

Robert Boyd

I was pretty down on a lot of the art I saw at HFAF this year. But I did see art I liked. The thing is that good art takes time. It requires contemplation. And an art fair is an environment antithetical to that. The bad art tends to be unsubtle. It screams at you from the walls. It's like a spotlight shining on your face. It makes it hard to see anything else.

But I made the effort. I spent five hours going from booth from booth, trying my best to screen out the glare from the loud, bad art to see what I could see that was good.  And the good is the subject of this post.

One note--I liked a lot of local art. Does this mean that I think local art is better than art from other places (on average)? That I am a chauvinist for art produced in Houston and vicinity? In my defense, I think the reason that I favored the local is because when I see a painting be, say, Geoff Hippenstiel, I am not seeing that painting in isolation. I am seeing the latest stage of a painter whose work I have been observing for a while now. I don't have that privilege for most out-of-town artists. If I am perplexed by what they are doing, I don't have any idea what their concerns as an artist are or how they reached this point. If I was living in Chicago or Seattle, I'd have similar experiences with their local artists. Familiarity breeds understanding and that ironically leads to what is effectively a local bias.

You'll also see that I like a lot of old things--Latin American Constructivists pieces (well represented at HFAF), abstract expressionist work, and surrealist objets. And there is a lot of photography on my list. I've tried to group similar works together, as if I were curating an exhibit. Hopefully that will help reduce the noise of such divergent work. As I said in my post on the art I hate, your mileage may vary.

Melitón Rodríguez, Carolina Carballo, Medellín Colombia, 1899, silver gelatin print at FotoFest

This cheesy studio portrait by Melitón Rodríguez from over a hundred years ago is made unexpectedly surreal because of the the rifles held by the young women.

Pía Elizondo at Patricia Conde Galería

Federico Gama at Patricia Conde Galería

Cannon Bernáldez at Patricia Conde Galería

One can't look at this piece by Cannon Bernáldez and not think of the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.

Alejandro Cartagena, Carpoolers #20, photograph, 20” x 17.25”, Paul Kopeikin Gallery

Alejandro Cartagena, Carpoolers #21, photograph, 20” x 17.25”, Paul Kopeikin Gallery

I imagined Alejandro Cartagena sitting on an overpass, camera ready, for many days to get this series of photographs.  I found the series quite powerful and timely.

Aaron Parazette, Color Key #6, 2009, acrylic on linen at McClain Gallery

For me, it's the two tangent ellipses and the small green stripes separating the pink and orange stripes that make this piece by Aaron Parazette work. And the concentric circles radiating out from the tangent point. 

Dion Johnson, Helium, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 72" x 144" at Western Project

Dion Johnson's shaped canvas and overlapping colors initially struck me as a bit chaotic, but spending some time with it leads me to believe that the geometries here are no less deliberate than those in Aaron Parazette's painting.

Joseph Cohen, Proposition 357, pigment, diamond dust and varnish on birch, 29 1/2" x 23 1/2" at Avis Frank

The diamond dust in Joseph Cohen's works at Avis Frank gave these monochromatic and bichromatic paintings a rather unearthly luxe flavor.

Cathy Choi at Margaret Thatcher Projects

I was struck by the similarity between Cathy Choi's work and Joseph Cohen's.

Heidi Spector at Margaret Thatcher Projects

Lots of the work at Margaret Thatcher Projects featured artists working in brightly colored resin or plastics, as with this piece by Heidi Spector. The booth had a playful feel.

Omar Chacon at Margaret Thatcher Projects

I think people were quite taken with Omar Chacon's paintings last year, so Margaret Thatcher Projects brought back more Chacon pieces for an encore.

Luis Cruz Azaceta, Urban Jungle, 2011, serigraph, 36" x 41"

Of course, for intense color, silk screen is a venerable, low-tech medium, as Luis Cruz Azaceta demonstrates.

Al Souza, Blinky, puzzle parts and glue on wood, 2002 at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Al Souza had this brightly colored puzzle piece in the fair. I always wonder with his puzzle pieces how quickly the colors fade, given that puzzles are printed with cheap inks on offset litho presses.

Joaquin Torres Garcia, Constructif dedique a Manolita, 1931, oil on cardboard at Sammer Gallery

It was astonishing to see this early constructivist work by Joaquin Torres Garcia at the fair. But Latin American constructivism seemed to be a theme this year.

Lolo Soldevilla, untitled, 1959, collage on cardboard at Arevalo Gallery

Like this angular collage by Lolo Soldevilla.

Manuel Alvarez, Pintura, oil on canvas, 45 cm x 70 cm at Sammer Gallery

Juan Mele, R783, 1999, oil, wood blocks at Arevelo Gallery

I especially liked this wood contruction by Juan Mele.

Theodoros Stamos, Morning Wind, 1957, oil on canvas, 70 3/4" x 57" at Hollis Taggart Galleries

And North America's abstractionists were not left out, as with this handsome Theodoros Stamos.

Norman Bluhm, untitled, oil on paper mounted on masonite, 41" x 28 3/4" at Hollis Taggart Galleries

But my favorite abstract expressionist painting in the show was this untitled piece by Norman Bluhm.

Robert Motherwell, Hollow Men Suite, lift-ground etching and aquatint, chine colle (one of seven prints), 11 1/4" x 12" each at Jerald Melberg Gallery

Robert Motherwell, Hollow Men Suite, lift-ground etching and aquatint, chine colle (one of seven prints), 11 1/4" x 12" each at Jerald Melberg Gallery

And there was a beautiful suite of tiny etchings by Robert Motherwell.

Francisco Larios, Doppelganger Delirium, 2012, mixed on canvas, 78" x 70" at Drexel Galeria

Francisco Larios creates a more modern abstraction with Doppelganager Delirium where recognizable graphic elements are mixed with a painterly textured surface. It makes me think a little of Lari Pittman.

Geoff Hippenstiel at Devin Borden Gallery

What jumped out at me in this painting by Geoff Hippenstiel was the black bar--it felt like a new element, something I hadn't seen in his work before.

Antonio Murado, Black Bear, 2011, oil on linen, 83" x 63" at Holly Johnson

Antonio Murado, untitled (1003), 2010, oil on linen, 31" x 37" at Von Lintel Gallery

Antonio Murado, Untitled (956), 2010, oil on paper, 11" x 15" at Von Lintel Gallery

Antonio Murado had work in two different galleries at the fair, and I was struck by all of it. Unlike Hippenstiel's thick impasto, Murado works with very thinned-down paint, creating transparent layers which he employs to various ends. The effect is subtle and sneaks up on you--therefore making it difficult work to see at an art fair.

Alexander Calder, untitled (Spoon), c. 1940-43, sterling silver at Schroeder Romero & Shredder

In addition to this delightful Alexander Calder spoon, Schroeder Romero & Shredder had a selection of gorgeous Man Ray photographs.

Annette Sauermann, No. 4 Kopie, 2012, sandpaper, white cement & light filter on board, 40 1/2" x 39 3/4" at C. Grimaldis Gallery

Pieces like No. 4 Kopie by Annette Sauermann, with its subtle shades of grey, seemed destined to be overlooked in the visual cacophony of the art fair.

Retna at New Image Art

Likewise the inkwash calligraphy of Retna.

Carol Young, Untitled, 2012, ceramic installation, 78.7" x 30.7" x 11.8" at Beatriz Esguerra Art

Carol Young, Untitled (detail) , 2012, ceramic installation, 78.7" x 30.7" x 11.8" at Beatriz Esguerra Art

I was quite taken by Carol Young's ceramic installation, which suggested themes of memory and age. It felt deliciously out of place in this venue with so much concentration on "the new." I was reminded a little of Ilya Kabokov's installation School No. 6 at Marfa.

Johannes Girardoni, Exposed Icon 62, 2012, C-print with commercial paint mounted on aluminum, 60" x 40" at Tomlinson Kong

Johannes Girardoni also approaches memory in his work-or specifically forgetting.

Sarah Frantz at David Shelton Gallery

Sarah Frantz likewise deals with forgetting or eliminating. Young, Girardoni and Franz all showed work that felt mature and wise, in contrast to some of the more typical art fair work which is brash (which is not a fault) and/or imbecilic.

Sarah Frantz at David Shelton

Erick Swenson, Sketch for Dressage, 2011, urethane resin and paint on MDF, 15 1/4" x 4 1/2" x 10 1/2" at Talley Dunn Gallery

The octopus lost, I guess.

John Adelmann at Darke Gallery

John Adelman had a great selection of paintings at Darke Gallery. These works are the result of an obsessive process, and it is the process that interests Adelman, but the results are quite beautiful.

Leandro Erlich, Neighbors, 1996 at Core Factor (MFAH)

Leandro Erlich, Neighbors (detail), 1996 at Core Factor (MFAH)

Not surprisingly, some of the best work at HFAH was at the CORE Program exhibit. Neighbors by Leandro Erlich had a feeling of loneliness and paranoia. I was reminded of Edward and Nancy Kieholz's Pedicord Apartments or even certain Edward Hopper paintings.

Maritta Tapanainen, Eye of the Beholder, 2010, paper collage, 15" x 17 1/4" at Pavel Zoubok

Mark Greenwalt, Large Synthetic Head, 2012, acrylic on panel, 59" x 43 1/2" at Hooks-Epstein Galleries

Mark Greenwalt has a great show up right now at Hooks-Epstein Gallery.

Richard Colman at New Image Art

There is something slightly disturbing about Richard Colman's painting at New Image Art. Trying to understand what is being depicted (beheadings?) within this setting that seems simultaneously ancient and science-fictional. The work grabbed my attention and held it.

Robert Pruitt, Up Up in the Upper Room, 2012, conte and charcoal on hand-dyed paper, 73" x 61" at Hooks-Epstein Galleries

This is the first time I've seen Robert Pruitt depict a group scene (as opposed to an individual portrait). The two viewers (connoisseurs? casual art fans?) look at the sculpture (or ritual object) being shown by the third woman. In a way, it could be a depiction of an episode at an art fair!

  Robyn O'Neill, Symbiosis, 2008, graphote on paper, 36" x 44" at Talley Dunn Gallery

Rodolfo de Florencia, Madame Chocolat, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 56" x 43" at Drexel Galeria

Rodolfo de Florencia caught my eye with this genuinely bizarre image of auto-cannibalism. The richness of the painting combined with its utter eccentricity were what appealed to me so much about it.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Friends Indeed, 2000 at Core Factor (MFAH)

There were several Trenton Doyle Hancock pieces at the fair, but this one, with its skein of roots and words, appealed to me the most.

Wayne White at Westen Projects

Wayne White is always welcome.

William Betts,View from the Standard, NY, 2010, acrylic paint on reverse drilled mirror acrylic, 60" x 40" at Holly Johnson Gallery

As is William Betts. This was one of his pieces where a photographic image is placed into a mirror by drilling out tiny holes and filling them with acrylic paint (presumably some computer-controlled machine actually does this--I don't see how human hands could accomplish it). Because it's an image on a mirror's surface, it is quite difficult to photograph--an effect that Betts may have deliberately sought.