Saturday, August 31, 2013

Soo Sunny Park and Total Reflective Abstraction

Betsy Huete

There is an article filed away in an old issue of Cabinet Magazine written by Josiah McElheny. In it he proposes the canonization of a movement born of a conversation between Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller called "Total Reflective Abstraction." As one can fairly easily conclude, the general premise of the movement is to engender a new form of abstraction based entirely off reflectivity. What’s less obvious, however, is the crux of the arguments Total Reflective Abstraction makes. While one may surmise the abstraction lies in the refraction of bouncing light and the bending of reflected images, the idea is actually that the abstraction exists in its invisibility. Devoid of edges, shadow, or content, the form is continually reflecting the environment back onto the viewer.

Soo Sunny Park’s Unwoven Light (2013), recently up at Rice Gallery, seems to reify this buried movement. It’s a massive installation comprising of thirty-seven welded and tied together chain-link fencing. Suspended mid-air, tufts of fencing twist and curl about, writhing like metal wind. The pores of the fencing are mostly filled with Plexiglas inserts, each lightly tinted with an acrylic film. The result is a wavy, tumultuous crystalline and prismatic structure that, in line with the tenets of Total Reflective Abstraction, harbors a sense of invisible presence.

Unwoven Light, 2013, Chain-link fence, Plexiglas, acrylic film, dimensions variable

According to the brief film in the front of the gallery, Park engages herself primarily with interstitial spaces. And she certainly achieves that with Unwoven Light—the combination of chain-link fence to Plexiglas creates a form that feels simultaneously wistful and intimidating. Because of its reflective nature, it’s also a piece that constantly changes: the viewer can have an entirely different experience simply by attending to the piece at different stages in the day.

Soo Sunny Park: Unwoven Light from Walley Films on Vimeo.

The write-up Rice Gallery provides details this potentiality of constant change not only due to reflection but also color. The slight tint Park applies to the Plexiglas squares shimmers, harkening to the iridescence present in nature on things like feathers, scales, wings, and water. But it curiously discusses very little, if at all, the presence of the object in the room and the ways in which it commands the space. While formally light and even playful, it pulls and leads and magnetizes the viewer’s movement like dark matter. As the viewer advances through the space, he gets sucked into and hugged by the piece as it curls in on itself, creating micro-spaces of refuge and claustrophobia within the totality of the environment.

In being that the most successful component of Unwoven Light is its invisible presence, it is disappointing to see that not every space of the fencing is filled with Plexiglas. This is likely due to Park’s interest in the chain-link fence as both a hefty and porous material, but the addition and uniformity of the Plexiglas within the pores of the fence is precisely and paradoxically what makes it feel so invisible in the first place. So here, the vacant spots read less as pores and more as missing teeth. Park and her assistants endured great pains, not to mention probably hundreds of hours welding fence and tying wire—which makes it all the more frustrating to see the separate components attached with plastic ties. While Park may be hard pressed to find a more practical form of attachment, the plastic ties are materially incompatible and nevertheless distracting.

Unwoven Light, detail, 2013, Chain-link fence, Plexiglas, acrylic film, dimensions variable

Soo Sunny Park’s installation is surprisingly forceful, commanding of movement while maintaining a visual pulchritude and weightlessness. In terms of liminality, it’s an environment that imminently hints at danger and entrapment, yet immanent in its ability to exude and reflect back onto the world color in its most beautiful form.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pan Recommends for the week of August 29 to September 4

Robert Boyd

Happy Labor Day weekend! If you're not at the beach, here are some art things to do. (And if you are at the beach, swing by GAR and the Galveston Art Center.)


This 3-D image of a handprint on a mouse will probably make a lot more sense if you see Felipe Lopez's show at the Alliance Gallery

Felipe Lopez: Constructing the Praxis of Interactivity at the Alliance Gallery, 6 to 8 pm. This solo show by Felipe Lopez features thermochromics (paint that changes color when the temperature changes) and 3-D glasses. I'm disappointed by the lack of smellovision, though.

"No Matter How Hard I Try I Can’t Look The Same As I Did Yesterday" by soprano Lisa Harris featuring DJ Fat Tony at Fresh Arts, 6 to 8 pm. A new performative installation including video. I'm not sure if there is any performance at the opening reception (aside from the DJ), but there are two official performance dates scheduled; one on September 13 and one on September 20.

Design Now–Houston: Democratic Design: Envisioning Houston featuring Susan Rogers, Ned Dodington, and Javier Fadul at the CAMH, 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Part of a lecture series to accompany CAMH's current design show, this one is about envisioning Houston on different scales.


I think this one is by Beau Pope

Strictly Stencils! featuring work by 2:12, Zen Full, Cutthroat, Pahnl Whatnow, Bryan Cope, Chad HKs, Stencil Killer Art, Wiley Robertson, Emmanuel Nuño Arámbula, Jessica Pope and Beau Pope at East End Studio Gallery, one night only, 6 to 10 pm. Presented by I wish it lasted longer than one night...

Alex Larsen's studio at El Rincón Social

OPEN STUDIOS ¡JUEGOS! at El Rincón Social, 8 pm to 2 am. Come see the artists' studios  an play some games, including mariachi gritos,  monkey dodge ball, marbles, cat rodeo, indoor fishing, ice sliding, checkers, rhino boobs, bobbing for Jalapenos, over-the-top arm wrestling and more.


Earl Staley, Distant Shore, watercolor on paper, 6 x 12 inches

Earl Staley's Going to Rome Sale at his studio at Art Supply on Main, 10am to 4pm. Earl Staley is heading off to the American Academy in Rome, and wants to sell you a watercolor or two before he goes. Staley is an excellent and highly prolific watercolorist, and these pieces, mostly from 2008 to the present, are being sold at bargain prices ($25 to $500). Not a bad price to pay for work by an artist who represented the U.S. at the 1984 Venice Biennale!

EXTRA ! EXTRA ! A News Media Art Happening featuring Mic McAllister, Yamin Cespedes, William H. Miller, Vincent Fink, Brent Bruni Comiskey, Michael Wooten, Samar Allarakia, Yota Papadopulos, Zoanna Maney, Niole Gavin, Elizabeth Cencini, Eric Harker, John Paul Hartman, Solomon Kane, Gian Palacios-Świątkowski, Kyle Fu, Joe Sioufi, Mandy Peyrani, Catherine Kleinhans, Victoria Lewelling, George Bibb, Dirk Strangely, Moe Profane, Dandee Warhol, Kristen Blakeway, Gordon Greenleaf, Victor Hugo Zambrano Navarro, Paula Hawkins, Chasity Porter, James Hudek, Randall Kallinen, Christian Perkins, Christina Lynn Todaro, Denise St. Clair, Jonathan Rosenstein, Lenora Palacios, Angela Obenhaus, Marsha Glickman, Naz Kaya-Erdal, Charlene Zak and Hope Sanford at Kallinen Contemporary, 7 to 10 pm. The subject is the news media, and this show will include an appearance by Wayne Dolcefino--not the Houston art world's favorite reporter!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

POLL: Where Do You Houston Artists Live?

Robert Boyd

Where do you live?

A commenter on Swamplot made the following comment in reference to some new construction in the Third Ward:
My understanding is that it goes like this: First are usually the lower income artistic types who give the area a ‘vibe.’ Then come slightly higher income artistic types who find fixer-uppers and start increasing property values. Then come the affluent who scrape the lots to build their own houses. Finally, the developers come in to build on any remaining semi-large contiguous lots. ["Comment of the Day: Getting Ahead of the Game in the Third Ward", Swamplot, 8/28/2013]
Someone responded, "I’ve lived here [the Third Ward] for 4 years and have yet to meet a single 'artist.' Also, I’m not 'artistic' at all…I’m a square middle-aged white guy working for an oil company."

So this made me wonder--where do the artists live? I know where some Houston artists live because I've been to their homes. Of course, there is Itchy Acres, the clot of artists living up in Independence Heights.

Are you an artist? If so, please tell me in the comments where you live (just your neighborhood--I don't want your street address). If you don't want to mention where you live in public, please feel free to email me. I will keep the information private. Then once I have enough responses, I'll publish the results.

P.S. If you are willing to reveal this, would you tell me if you rent or own? (Or have some other arrangement altogether?)

P.P.S. I assumed that respondents would all be visual artists of one sort or another, but I've gotten responses from people who identify themselves as musicians and writers. So if you want to, please let us know what kind of artist you are.


At Sea With Larsen and Connor

Robert Boyd

Dylan Conner, Red Snapper, 2013, steel, plaster, enamel, 14 x 5 84 inches

States of Matter is a fairly nondescript name for this show of work by Dylan Connor and Alex Larsen at Avis Frank Gallery. I'm not sure I could have come up with a better name, but both artists have work that references the ocean or the seaside. And curiously, that's the feeling I get with this work--the feeling of walking along the waterfront or in a port. For example, Red Snapper, aside from being named after a delicious Gulf fish, looks like a wave frozen in space. It is actually a plaster cast of some kind, but I can't tell exactly how Connor made it. But one telling feature are the streaks of rust against the bleached whiteness of the plaster. That kind of rust reminds me my own time at sea and in ports, where the salty sea and windblown sand were slowly corroding just about everything.

Alex Larsen, Tidal (I), 2013, wood, marble, steel, 62 x 43 x 29 inches

And wooden pilings might have been painted once or maybe a hundred times, but they always looked like the heavy wooden element in Alex Larsen's Tidal (I), which also includes a metal model of what looks like a sailboat hull. I don't know much about Larsen or Connor, but if I had to guess, I'd guess they live in Galveston or somewhere along the coast or Galveston Bay. I hear waves lapping against the pier when I look at this work.

Alex Larsen, Extrusion Study: Crapshoot, 2013, steel, urethane, plastic, 34 x 40 x 5 inches

I risk overstating this shoreline feeling, though. A lot of Larsen's work in the show was like Extrusion Study: Crapshoot. These "extrusions" seem like a result of process that Larsen has developed. (The same could be said about Connor's casts.) They appear to be made of colored plastic that was liquified, poured, and then solidified mid-pour. They end up becoming very delicate-looking flower-like objects.

Alex Larsen, Scribe, 2013, wood, steel, epoxy, enamel, 22 x 31 inches

Larsen even included an old-fashioned picture among his works, Scribe. This lovely small abstraction feels a little out of place in this show, whose pieces otherwise seem so highly dependent on the process of their making for their final form. But so what? Scribe, with its rough rectangles of color and inscribed linework, is a beautiful piece. The enclosed form in the black rectangle reminded me specifically of Forrest Bess. Perhaps the spermatozoa in the red and white areas have a relationship to Bess's work as well. (But maybe I'm seeing Bess here because Bess has been on my mind so much lately.)

Dylan Connor, Whitecaps, 2013, steel, polymer gypsum, enamel, 48 x 30 inches

Less smooth and sinuous than Red Snapper, this piece is appropriately named Whitecaps. The wind has picked up and the bay has gotten a little choppy. Notice the "wrinkles" in the sides of each vertical element. I think this is a clue to Connor's process.

Dylan Connor, Polar Opposites (top half), 2013, marine buoy, steel, polymer gypsum, steel cable, 3 x 3 x 12 feet

We see more of Connor's technique here. The molds for his plaster and gypsum polymer objects seem to be made partly of stretched fabric of some kind. In Polar Opposites, this gives the illusion of great tension, as if the buoy in the center is pulling the two anchoring elements tightly.

Dylan Connor, Polar Opposites (bottom half), 2013, marine buoy, steel, polymer gypsum, steel cable, 3 x 3 x 12 feet

It has the effect of focusing the viewer on the buoy and its beautiful rusted surface. Polar Opposites is a spectacular piece of work. But it's one of those pieces that when you see it in a commercial gallery, you think, this a piece that demands a lot from whoever possesses it. How would a collector even display that?

Alex Larsen, Material Collision, 2013, steel, 38 x 44 inches

That's a question you would also ask about Material Collision by Alex Larsen. Here Larson, like Connor, is playing with the idea of fabric frozen into rigidity. Where Connor uses plaster and gypsum polymer, Larsen uses steel. But the thing is that the black sphere is sunk into this otherwise fairly flat piece of steel, as if it were a cannonball that had been fired into it. It reminds me of illustrations you sometimes see of spacetime around heavy objects like stars, except that they always depict spacetime as being smooth, like a sheet of rubber. But maybe its more like this, wrinkled and irregular, a little rusty and aged (which is OK, what with space being 13.7 billion years old).

Alex Larsen, Material Collision, 2013, steel, 38 x 44 inches

So the collector who buys this piece literally has to poke a hole in her wall to display it. Well, what's a little sheetrock when you can display something this grand in your home? It's really a magnificent piece--Material Collision and Polar Opposites are the two most exciting pieces in this excellent exhibit. 


Monday, August 26, 2013

Sign Up to Receive the Pan Weekly Report

Robert Boyd

Our pledge to you--the Pan Weekly Report is not spam

You may have noticed a little widget over to the right that is commanding you to "subscribe to our mailing list," which I admit is somewhat curious wording. We actually want you to subscribe to our weekly reports. These weekly emails will be summaries and links to all the posts from the previous 7 days. They will be sent out every Thursday.

(If you are reading this on a phone, you may not see the sign-up form. It is only visible if you are viewing this blog through a web browser like Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc.)

In addition, we'll be sending out occasional updates for the Pan Art Fair.

We won't share your email addresses with Nigerian scammers (who, let's be honest here, already have your email address) or companies who promise you a "weird trick" to pick up women or anyone else. Nor will we fill your email boxes with daily Pan spam. Just a weekly report and an occasional Pan Art Fair notice. So if you are one of those people who still uses email for stuff, please sign up!


Esteban Delgado: Shifting Plasticity

Betsy Huete

Jessica Stockholder, while working primarily as a sculptor, widely engages with the type of formal concerns that exist in the realm of painting. She arranges objects that just about anyone could purchase from Home Depot and paints over some parts of the installation, three-dimensionally tackling two-dimensional traditions of line and color. The objects she selects are usually plastic and have a sense of "inherence"—what she describes in her Art21 episode as having color “all the way through.”

Watch Play on PBS. See more from ART:21.

Esteban Delgado, whose work was displayed at Avis Frank Gallery earlier this month, couldn’t be further away from Jessica Stockholder in his practice. He is an abstract painter: geometric abstraction to be exact. The closest he gets to installation is painting on walls. Everything is flat: as he states flatly (pun intended) in his artist statement, “the work is obsessively flat.” And while all of his work emphatically feels that way, there’s something in the architecture of his paintings that is thick, that shares an affinity with Stockholder’s gravitation towards plastic.

Revolving Thirds, 2010, Acrylic on panel, 24”x22”

Likely due to his choice of materials, which consist almost entirely of acrylic latex or enamel on panel, everything reads as industrialized. Idioms of Change (2012) jockeys between positive and negative space, representations of landscape and rabid machination. Bold colors clamor for attention like clawing advertisements. Upon closer examination the viewer can see the lines Delgado probably taped off while painting, allowing her to engage with the paint as material instead of simply as color and line. One would presume that evidence of brushstrokes would betray the mechanized gravitas, but here they remarkably make everything look even less human.

Idioms of Change, 2012, Acrylic latex on panel, 20”x24”

Delgado states that his work is influenced by regional colors and landscapes, and that is readily apparent in most of the work, particularly Cuates Feo (2013). Cuates Feo presents what appears to be two cropped, closely snuggling mountains in the left two-thirds of the panel. The left mountaintop stands resolute as the right one leans in, seeking comfort as they both fade to purple with the sunset. But while he effectively extracts pathos from the viewer with these mountainous characters, the general premise of linking abstraction to regional landscape seems obvious and unchallenging.

Cuates Feo, 2013, Acrylic and enamel on panel, 20”x36”

Primetime (2013), on the other hand, asks more from the viewer. The innocuous scale at about a foot and half by two feet belies the dramatic landscape suggested in the abstraction. This time, however, the landscape is contained within a box that reads as a television set, further implied by the title. The juxtaposition in color between the bright and faded reds in the landscape indicates expanse, ratcheting up the tension of vastness and containment. Questions of nostalgia, notions of interior and exterior spaces, and even subtle interrogations of what constitutes a landscape appear to crop up in this piece more so than any other work in the exhibition.

Primetime, 2013, Acrylic latex on panel, 20”x24”

While reading more assertively and exclusively as a landform, Tectonic (2013) also effectively engages in this shift of interior and exterior space. The link between title and form are easy to connect: the painting looks like a pared down, geometric model of one tectonic plate sliding over another. In that it feels like a representation of a model as opposed to the real thing is likely due to the objects’ lack of cropping—well, almost lack of cropping. The red plate is mostly contained within the frame with the exception of its tail on the right, and the very bottom left tip of the purple plate is cropped out. But because most of said plates are captured within the painting’s boundaries, they simultaneously read as something smaller, like children’s playing blocks, or maybe severely uncomfortable modern furniture. The shadows cast on the dark side of the plates seem improbable in sunlight, as if a lamp is illuminating them instead. In this and Primetime, Delgado appears to be conflating the drama, romanticism, and potential violence of nature with the banality of our interior lives.

Tectonic, 2013, Acrylic and enamel on panel, 30”x30”

Esteban Delgado constructs geometric abstractions in such a way that enhance the viewers’ experience beyond the sensibility of color and form. Ironically, it is his method of painting and choices of color that allow the viewer to additionally engage with the materiality of the paint in a way that’s nearly sculptural. While some of the work may be too easily graspable in its allusion to regional landscape, others are making compelling demands of the viewer—demands that Delgado may not have even intended. Or if he did, he certainly did not let on in his artist statement. All of this makes one wonder: why was this work on display so briefly?

Abstractive Constructions ran from August 2-15, 2013 at Avis Frank Gallery.


A Certain Voluntary Association of Artists

Robert Boyd

Someone, often an artist, owns or has access to a space that can be subdivided into studios. Maybe it was a warehouse once upon a time. The space is rented out to other artists. These artists need space to do their work. You end up with buildings devoted to the production of art. These buildings come into being for awhile, are inhabited by artists, then go away. If you own one of these buildings, artists renting it is just a way to keep cash flowing in after the building has outlived its original industrial/warehouse use but before the neighborhood gets gentrified. The building's occupation by artists is just a part of its journey. But for the artists who work there (and sometimes surreptitiously live there), this building can become the site of a community where ideas evolve and are traded, where work is critiqued by one's peers, where collaborative works can be initiated.

Commerce Street Artist Warehouse was a legendary space founded by Rick Lowe, Wes Hicks, Kevin Cunningham, Deborah Moore and Robert Campbell in 1985. If a certain era of Houston's art history can be said to have culminated with the Fresh Paint show in 1985, then another era can be said to have begun with the establishment of CSAW that same year. Many of Houston's best artists worked there at one time or another, and the energy seems to have been tremendous. But that ended in 2008 when artists were forced to move out. (The story is told here, here and here.) Some of the artists who left were Michael Henderson, Kathy Kelley, Whitney Riley, Teresa O’Connor, Elaine Bradford and Young Min Kang. They quickly found a new space, where they hoped to avoid the latter-day mistakes of CSAW. In February 2008, they moved into an old storefront on Harrisburg at Cesar Chavez. This new space was Box 13.

Box 13 in 2010

I first encountered the Box in 2009, right when I was starting this blog. As a studio space, it has its problems. The A/C apparently is never very cool in some studio spaces. The studios didn't have doors initially. It's a bit off the beaten path. And there are lots of other studio spaces in town--artists are not starved for choice. There's Winter Street, Spring Street, Summer Street, Hardy & Nance, the Houston Foundry, Independence Studios, Mother Dog Studios, El Rincón Social, and probably others I'm blanking on. A friend of mine was looking around for studio space and checked out Spring Street Studios. He was tempted by its spacious hallways--ideal for exhibiting work--and efficient air-conditioning. It was clean and nice. But he chose Box 13. Because in the end, a studio is not a building. It's a group of artists. And Box 13 was where the artists he wanted to share space with were.

Therefore, it makes sense that Art League would be interested in hosting a Box 13 show. It's not like the Box 13 artists are a collective, nor could it be said that they have much in common with each other, except perhaps for a certain conceptual approach. And their membership is continually in flux. But perhaps more than any other studio in town, except for maybe El Rincón Social, Box 13 has an adventurous, exciting program of exhibits, including exhibits of its own members' work.

The Trojan Box, the show of Box 13 artists at The Art League, is uncurated. Essentially artists were told to bring in work and that's what got shown. While there is work in the show that I would never have thought about exhibiting together (David McClain's painting and Quinn Hagood's objects, for example), overall my impression is that it works. There is an overall high level of quality that strikes one and helps paper over the occasionally conflicting aesthetic values of the individual pieces.

Daniel Bertalot, Maps for Ghost Limb Project (detail), 18 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches

Daniel Bertalot hand drew maps and hand lettered little statements in pencil on newsprint, which were given away at the opening. The work involved in creating these giveaways must have been tremendous. I thought the statement was a little over-determining. It explained too much. But it was beautifully lettered. The map was drawn do small I had to use a magnifying glass to read it. (This probably says more about my old eyes than anything else.) But aside from that, it was a perfectly useful if eccentric map. The day after the opening, I followed it to where it lead, over in the Second Ward.

Daniel Bertalot, one of the Ghost Limbs

This is what I found. He had taken a tree branch, stripped it of leaves and painted it white, and attached it to a telephone pole. The title Ghost Limbs was literal. A ghostly white limb was reattached to a thing that had once been a tree. Clever and beautiful. In addition to what Bertalot wrote in his explanation, I was also reminded of "ghost bikes," the white painted bicycles left in spots where a cyclist was killed by a car. The idea that a place or object is "haunted" by its history is given a kind of literal representation in this piece. Also, I liked that the piece wasn't "complete" until the viewer went on a little exploration. How many recipients of the map (which were all given away on opening night) followed through? If you got one of these maps, did you follow it to the end? Let me know in the comments.

Michele Chen Dubose, Labyrinth, 2013, oil on canvas

I don't understand the title of Michelle Chen Dubose's Labyrinth, but the subject matter is clear enough--a blurred landscape, as if from a photo taken from of swiftly moving car. The image of the landscape takes the top two thirds of the canvas. The bottom third is left white. The white area is an area of absence, including an absence of motion, which placed under the landscape portion makes it seem as if it is speeding by all the faster. When you see a "blurred" painting, you are likely to think of Gerhard Richter. But in Michelle Chen's case, I think more of Italian futurist painters like Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni, who tried so hard to depict motion early in the 20th century. For them, the blur had not yet become a universal shorthand for motion. Now, anyone looking at Labyrinth will see a depiction of speed.

Jonathan Leach. "W.F.", 2013, acrylic on plexiglass, 43 x 37 x 5 inches

Describing the materials in Jonathan Leach's "W.F." as "acrylic on plexiglass" isn't the whole story. A lot of the lines on the surface of "W.F." are inscribed or etched into the surface of the plexiglass. They make a visible line on the surface and cast a shadow on the wall behind. And the shadow itself is a big part of what you see. Looking at it, I wonder if Leach had control over the lighting. Did he place the track light in just the right spot to cast just the right shadows? "W.F." is kind of a barely-there painting. The thin painted lines and thin inscribed lines cover a minimal part of the surface of the plexiglass. Leach is heading into Larry Bell territory here. "W.F." is an ethereal art machine.

David McClain, Untitled, 2013, acrylic, saliva, semen, graphite, 36 x 48 inches

The extreme opposite of "W.F." is David McClain's painting. I was impressed when I saw it--the raw Baselitz-like painting felt like the real thing and not a pastiche of earlier expressionist work. I make this distinction because I think it's hard to make convincing work that has the ability to shock. But I was startled by this, even before I noticed the giant angry red cock. (In fact, I don't think the cock was necessary, really.) This muscular animal strides out of the sky into your nightmare. It is a very strong image. But then reading the materials made me go "ew." There are no circumstances where it is OK for David McClain's jiz to enter my conscious awareness, even in passing. Thanks a lot, McClain.

Quinn Hagood, untitled, 2013, mixed media and found objects, 9 x 7 x 31 inches

Perhaps the horror of McClain's painting make it the right piece to hang next to Quinn Hagood's ultra-disturbing installation. It consists of our labeled jars filled with liquid and some chicken-like flesh.

Quinn Hagood, untitled (detail), 2013, mixed media and found objects, 9 x 7 x 31 inches

The labels indicate that these are lab experiments of some kind. The main thing seemed to be whether or not the "muscle mass" was "desirable" or "undesireable." It's impossible to look at these without feeling queasy. At the same time, you ask yourself what the hell? Is this art? Is Hagood creating a pastiche of a science experiment?

Quinn Hagood, untitled (detail), 2013, mixed media and found objects, 9 x 7 x 31 inches
The words "ARBF Initiative" provide a clue. The ARBF Initiative has a website which describes its scientific mission. It is seeking to create a chicken-like organism that solves the many problems associated with the factory farming of chickens (the cruelty or it, especially). It seeks to create the following organism:
Organism able to procreate within viable budget standards

Organism able to rely on nutrient rich sustainable glucose-fructose based feed

Organism able to self induce tissue building anaerobic exercise and maintenance

Organism able to regulate immune system without the assistance of antibiotics

Organism able to produce and fertilize ovum

Organism’s tissues less undesirable for consumers to prepare and serve

Organism’s tissues devoid major arteries to detract from undesirable qualities

Organism devoid of undesirable adipose tissue

Rudimentary brain capable of only basic respiratory and cardiac functions

Elimination of all appendages, complex organs, and tissues not required for egg production

Increased abundance of nutrients present in organism’s tissues
This sounds pretty sick, but when you consider that cow muscle has been grown in a laboratory, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake is built around the premise of such bizarre genetically modified organisms (she even includes a chicken-derived GMO designed to create chicken McNuggets). That's what I think is going on here--the ARBF Initiative is a fiction like Oryx and Crake, but one designed to be convincingly real. Of course, putting these things in an art show reminds you of their fictional nature. But that knowledge doesn't make me feel any less queasy for looking at them. Given the rise of so-called "ag gag" laws, convincing fictions may be the only way to have public discussions of these issues.

Kathy Kelley, i am drowning in the silent stillness of unwritten posts, remnant rubber, plaster, wax, clips

The third piece in the "freaky animal trilogy" is Kathy Kelley's i am drowning in the silent stillness of unwritten posts, which may remind you of a piebald elephant head. Or an alien space suit. It has a palpable presence that makes you think it is a thing, not an abstract three-dimensional form. It uses her favorite material--reclaimed rubber from old innertubes--but adds what is to me a new element--the white top. It was made with plaster and polished with wax, giving it a bone or ivory-like quality. I won't say i am drowning in the silent stillness of unwritten posts is beautiful, but it is compelling. I have to look at it--it really dominates the room. (An amazing achievement considering that the room is full of very interesting artworks.) And at the risk of sounding like Charles Kinbote, the title of this piece describes something I personally experience on a regular basis.

Dennis Harper, The Great Pan Head Is Dead, 2013, paper, foam board, mylar, pedestal, 36 x 24 x 36 inches

A work seemingly designed to excite my Kinbote-like impulses is Dennis Harper's The Great Pan Head Is Dead. This is actually a part of a larger artwork, Motorcycle, that Harper disassembled. (I showed Motorcycle in a show I curated called Pan Y Circos in 2011.) Weirdly enough, it is the second motorcycle engine artwork I've seen--James Drake did one, too. Harper's is bigger and shinier, and more important, it references my blog. What critic could ask for more?

These are just a few of the impressive works in the exhibit. It's a cornucopia of interesting artwork. I could have picked seven other pieces to write about from this show that are just as interesting and visually compelling as the pieces I chose to write about here. The overall level of quality is that high. The Trojan Box is on display through September 20 at the Art League.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Links

Robert Boyd

Here's a few items that have crossed my RSS feed in the past few days.

Ken Price, The Pinkest and the Heaviest, 1986, fired and painted clay, two parts: 7 x 4 ½ x 3 ¾ in, 8 ½ x 8 ½ x 7 ¾ in

ITEM: This article by the always excellent John Yau on Ken Price was also documents the triumph of conceptualism over craft in major contemporary art institutions (it mentions museums, but art schools and alternative art spaces could be mentioned as well).
I found it perfectly in keeping with long held policies and biases that the show went to the Met [...] and not to the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, or the Whitney Museum of American Art — three institutions which have all but openly declared their hostility toward the craft tradition to which Ken Price, who worked in ceramics, clearly belongs.

In fact, it is apparent to me that all three museums continue to embrace an old and destructive prejudice. As the art historian T. J. Clark has pointed out, painting also belongs to the craft tradition, which is one reason why New York museums have a pretty bad track record when it comes to supporting or examining anything contemporary made by hand, particularly if craft rather than deskilling is involved. ["Ken Price's Time" by John Yau, Hyperallergic, August 25, 2013]

View Robert's Houston Art Map in a larger map

ITEM: Until recently, I hadn't updated my Houston art map in ages. Galleries open and close, though, and new pieces of public art are installed, etc. So here is the updated map. It basically has about a 75 mile radius around Houston. Obviously most art locations tend to be bunched together inside the Loop, but I try to include things that exist further and further out. I wish that there was a Pearl Fincher-style museum in each of the cardinal points. The north has the Pearl Fincher. We need one west (in Katy?), south, and east (Baytown?).  But really, there's enough here to keep interested explorers pretty busy. If you notice any errors or omissions, please let me know!

Keith Haring signing at the FUN Gallery in February 1983. Photo by Martha Cooper. Reproduced in NEA Arts issue 2, 2013.

ITEM: Did you know the NEA has it's own magazine? And it's  pretty good. The second issue has articles on Daniel Clowes, Art Spiegelman, Lady Pink and more. We don't have an official Academy in the U.S., no imposed canon of taste (except that that arises as a general consensus within art schools and museums--see John Yau above), but if there were an Academy in the U.S., it would be the NEA. And here they are, devoting most of their space in their official magazine to comics and street art. If you asked me in 1988, when I first started writing about comics and when I started producing some highly illegal spray can art, whether these art forms would ever be canonical, I would have certain said no while simultaneously longing for it. When I worked for The Comics Journal, we were torn between wanting our artform to be acknowledged by cultural arbiters and disdaining them in favor of an independent path. So now, 25 years later, comics and street art seem to have arrived. Break out the champagne, I guess.

NEA Arts includes a great audio feature with Patti Astor about the history of the Fun Gallery, which was a key part of the East Village scene in the early 80s and the first flowering of street art.
Since the place was so small our first year, the place was so small we could only have one-man shows. And we never set out to be a graffiti gallery. We just gave shows to all of the people that were in this community that we thought really had talent. So we also included Stephen Kramer, Arch Connelly. And as well as the graffiti greats, Dondi, Fab 5, Lee, Futura. But every artist was treated just as an independent artist. And we were actually the first gallery to give graffiti artists one-man shows. To identify them as separate talents. Because usually they were just in these big smoosh piles. “Oh, that’s graffiti art.” And we were the first gallery to do that, and I think we were very proud of that. And I also think that the thing that we did was we opened up the art world to everyone. No more white wine, white walls, white people. ["Patti Astor and FUN Gallery: Inventing Space for Creative Culture" by Josephine Reed, NEA Arts issue 2, 2013]
Fun Gallery plays a walk-on role in a book I just read, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, as the first gallery of the East Village scene in the early 80s, of which Wojnarowicz was an important part. The irony is that Wojnarowicz ended up being locked in battle with the NEA in an opening salvo of the "culture wars." The NEA has remained a punching bag ever since. And to be honest, I never give much thought to it. It seems like a minor factor in my world. But I like NEA Arts.

skeleton + ass + Bill Willis = genius

ITEM: My favorite local Tumblr belongs to Bill Willis, who makes collages of random images with his own face--with an invariably manic expression--pasted in. Willis is a painter who had the last show at the Joanna, but I think this Tumblr is really his primary artistic outlet. Add it to your RSS feed.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lawn Art in Spring Branch

Robert Boyd

If you've ever been up to the Houston Foundry on Burnett St. in the Fifth Ward, you've probably seen Metalhenge, a sculpture group of metal screens in an empty lot at the corner of Maury and Burnett.


I have no idea who the artist is. (If you do, please let me know in the comments.) I've always liked them, though.

Imagine my surprise as I was driving through a nondescript Spring Branch neighborhood when I saw this.

This is at 1733 Crestdale, just south of Neuens Rd. It certainly appears to be by the same artist.

Let me add that this is not a neighborhood where I would expect anyone to have a sculpture in their front yard. The reality, I've found, is that Houstonians just choose not to decorate their yards in this way. It's really rare. I was delighted to stumble across this exception to the rule.