I saw art at the Houston Fine Art Fair that I found excellent. That artwork will not be seen in this post. This is all about the art I loathed. Art that is inept. Art that is gimmicky. Art that slaps you in the face with its utter crassness.
Usually I didn't recognize the artist. But there are a few well-known names here. But fame is no excuse. Bad is bad.
Bad comes in a variety of flavors. Portraits of celebrities were one popular category of bad. Optical illusions another. One attendee referred to a certain kind of art as a "wall ride." I'm sure these will be obvious below. Kitchy, sentimental pieces get included. As do lazy pieces of art that are pastiches of other art. Art that panders. And art that is inept and awkward. You're all on my list.
The thing is, one can imagine artworks (and even identify actual examples of such art) that fit into any of the above categories that nonetheless succeed as artworks. I'm open to that. And regarding the pieces below, your mileage may vary. But spending several hours walking through this souk of luxury merchandise left me profoundly weary and dispirited. I felt personally insulted by much of the work on view. If I were a slightly more passionate person, I would have caused an incident. Getting thrown out of such a place would be an honor. But the whole environment was too enervating for me to accomplish an action like that, and besides, I'm a total chickenshit. So instead I write this nasty, mean-spirited blog post.
Alex Queral, Clint Eastwood, digital print on canvas, 60" x 48" at Projects Gallery
Alex Queral carves likenesses of famous people from phone books, then takes photos and blows them up. I guess it's slightly amazing that he can do this, but the likenesses are bad, and the images themselves are boring cliches.
Vik Muniz, Jackie (From Diamond Divas), C-print, 39" 32" at PanAmerican Art Projects
Vik Muniz has done many pieces of art that I like, but this series of portraits done in diamonds is crass and panders to the worst instincts of collectors. I mean, why not go the extra step and draw the portraits in cocaine?
Alex Cao portrait of Steve Jobs at Darke Gallery
Alex Cao's huge images--almost all extremely familiar--were perhaps the low point of the show. They are heinous. He uses some computer technique to take a very small picture and create the very large picture from it. So Steve Jobs is made out of millions of tiny astronauts.
Alex Cao portrait of Steve Jobs (detail) at Darke Gallery
Alex Cao portrait of Pamela Anderson at Darke Gallery
And Pamela Anderson is made of millions of tiny vaginas--specifically, L'Origine du monde by Gustave Courbet. The shallow irony of this combination hardly deserves remarking on.
Alex Cao portrait of Pamela Anderson (detail) at Darke Gallery
Anibal Vallejo, Kennedy Assassination, 2010, oil and embroidery on canvas, 47" x 59"
And speaking of shallow, Anibal Vallejo's Kennedy Assassination is an pointless, emotion-free representation of the tragic historical scene. In addition to being a trivial depiction of an important event, it is badly composed and executed.
Lluis Barba, Archduke Leopold in His Picture Gallery in Brussels, David Teniers, 2008/2009, digital C-Print on perspex, 72" x 98" at Cynthia Corbett Gallery
Lluis Barba manages to combine two of the most crass trends observed in this art fair into one loathsome work. (Actually several loathsome works, but this is the one I chose to photograph.) He is quoting a well-known painting Archduke Leopold in His Picture Gallery in Brussels by David Teniers. And he crudely populates the painting with ineptly Photoshopped images of celebrities of various sorts. This work fails on every possible level.
Benito Huerta, So What, 78" x 78", at Thomas Paul Fine Art
I know Benito Huerta is well-regarded. I've seen work by Huerta that I like. But to show not one but two pastiches of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon suggests a dearth of ideas. (This was repeated at his solo exhibit at Avis Frank Gallery where the painting he riffed on over and over was Gauguin's L'Esprit des morts veille.)
Benito Huerta, Exile Off Main Street, 2012, oil on velvet, fir and tar on wood, 63" x 99" at Thomas Paul Fine Art
I can understand that Huerta might be contending with Picasso or Gauguin. That his work is in dialogue with the old dead white guys, or a critique of their colonial attitudes or treatment of women as subjects and objects. But in the end, this kind of art seems on one hand to depend on someone else's energy, and more important, it panders to the potential audience. And if you saw one of these pieces alone in a different context, it might be different. But in the context of an art fair, where work like this is distressingly common, these paintings are just one more pat on the back of the attendees congratulating them for their relatively-meager-but-not-non-existent-knowledge of art history.
Devorah Sperber, After Picasso, 5024 spools of thread, aluminum ball chain and hanging aparatus, clear acrylic spheres, steel stand, 2006, 96" x 100" x 60" at Bentley
But Huerta's paintings pale in comparison to the utter vacuity of these beauties by Devorah Sperber. Her two pieces, After Picasso and After Van Eyck are gimmicky wall-rides built around well-known paintings. These crowd-pleasing objects might work very well at a carnival or county fair, but they shouldn't be in art museums. On the other hand, they probably work well in the context of an art fair where the sensational is prioritized.
Devorah Sperber, After van Eyck, 5024 spools of thread, aluminum ball chain and hanging aparatus, clear
acrylic spheres, steel stand, 2006, 96" x 100" x 60" at Bentley Gallery
Alex Cao Pollock piece
I had to include our dear Mr. Cao. Of course he does pieces that are reproductions of famous artworks. No way would he miss out on that portion of the art fair dollar.
Frank Hyder, Couple, mixed media on Plexiglass with LEDs, 48" x 22" x 3.5" at Projects Gallery
My gif doesn't quite give the true effect of this piece, in which the colors gradually fade into one another. This purely decorative object seems like the kind of thing one might purchase at Pottery Barn, except they would have enough taste not to have it change colors.
Delphine Boël, Truth=Freedom?, neon, at Cynthia Corbett Gallery
Do trite expressions gain gravity when expressed in neon? This is the real question that Delphine Boël is asking.
Chul Hyun Ahn, Forked Series #22, 2012, plywod, lights, mirrors, 22" x 21" x 4" at C. Grimaldis Gallery
Chul Hyun Ahn makes pieces that look like they recede infinitely. And that's it. There is no there there. Just a cheesy optical illusion.
Chul Hyun Ahn, title unknown, plywood, lights, mirrors, 22" x 21" x 4" at C. Grimaldis Gallery
three pieces by Patrick Hughes at Flowers Gallery
When you walk by Patrick Hughes pieces, they seem to move. The novelty of this would last for one or two viewings, and then what? You are left with paintings of almost endless banality.
Rafeal Barrios, Horizontal Levitante M25 at Art Nouveau Gallery
Ditto with Rafeal Barrios's sculptures. Once you figure out the optical illusion that makes it appear that these metal sculptures are a bunch of planks in various combinations, there is nothing there. Barrios, Hughes and Chul Hyun Ahn create art that is the equivalent of magic eye posters, with an equivalent level of artistic interest. The primary difference is price.
Rafeal Barrios, Nimbus M29 at Art Nouveau Gallery
Claudio Napolitano, Pescador de Suenos, photography, 59" x 45" at Villa del Arte Galleries
Claudio Napolitano's pictures of children trade in rank, manipulative sentimentality. Look at this little fisher of dreams. So deep! So cute!
Adonay Duque, Child 19th Century, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 47" x 47" at Galeria Moro
Adonay Duque channels Margaret Keane in this horrific portrait.
Ramón Vázquez, Maternidad, oil on canvas, 39 12/" x 31 1/2" at Cernuda Arte
Ramón Vázquez has real painting skill, but unfortunately he exercises his skills on paintings that are relentlessly hideous.
Irina Elén González, Dama de los Mares, acrylic on canvas, 39" x 31 3/4" at Cernuda Arte
Look, her hair is clouds!
Deborah Azzopardi, The Unexpected Call, 2012, acrylic on board, 48" x 36.5" at the Cynthia Corbett Gallery
Roy Lichtenstein has a lot to answer for. But all the virtues of his blow-up of comics panels are absent in Deborah Azzopardi's The Unexpected Call. The weak linework, the inept airbrush-style shading, the blankness of the image. Terrible.
John Grande, I See Dots 2, oil on canvas, 40" x 41"
With the badly painted 60s model (Twiggy? Edie Sedgwick?) underneath a Damien Hirst-like dot painting, John Grande contrives to create something even shallower and more noxious than his two sources. That's something of an achievement.
Olga Tobreluts, Naomi, 2009, cold painted bronze, 31" x 8" x 9" at Deborah Colton
I suspect that there are people who think Olga Tobreluts' Naomi is mega-classy. I am grateful not to have met them.
Cristobal Valecillos, Teatime, archival digital print on metallic paper, 36" x 26" at the McLoughlin Gallery
Ditto with Teatime by Cristobal Valecillos.
Elisabett Gudmann/Kirk H. Slaughter, CROWD:3, unique bronze with patina
This looks vaguely familiar? Is there some other artist who made massively attenuated figures with really long legs? Some other guy who did roughly modeled figures? Help me out, people.
Jose Bedia, Cumpliendo un Destino Inexorable, 2010, mixed media on canvas, 70.5" x 129" at PanAmerican Art Projects
Look--an invisible superhero is telling a battleship to hush. That must mean something! Like "war is bad!" So deep!
Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Oh Night I Entered Through the Window of a Locked Church at Pavel Zoubok Gallery
Grandma would like one of these.