Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reasons to Go the the Houston Fine Art Fair

Robert Boyd

Some writers have suggested that the Houston Fine Art Fair is full of bad art, but personally, I found lots to like there. Here's some of the good stuff.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake at dpm gallery

At dpm gallery from Equador, Pablo Cardoso had a series of small 120 paintings on paper called Lago Agrio-Sour Lake. Each one is monochromatic--brown, blue, brown, etc.--and is a painting of a photograph. The images each depict a small bottle of water.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

In the upper left, we see a cup being filled and then being poured into the bottle. Then we see the bottle being transported.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

It ends up in an airport and is carried onto a plane. (It occurs to me that you can't carry water onto planes, so I wonder how he did it. UPDATE: The bottle was apparently small enough that it fell outside the regulated quantity.)

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

It is put on the dash of a car and driven someplace. Wait, I recognize that bridge! The bottle is now in Houston.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

We see the freeway and the Houston skyline.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

And a city limit sign for Sour Lake. Sour Lake is a small town outside of Beaumont.

Pablo Cardoso, Lago Agrio-Sour Lake (detail) at dpm gallery

In 1903, the Texas Company drilled its first well there. This company would become Texaco, and there is a monument marking the site. Here, finally, the water that has travelled so very far is poured out.

Lago Agrio was a large oil field in Ecuador discovered in the mid 60s. Initially it was produced by a consortium of Texaco and Gulf Oil, although by 1976, it was majority owned by CEPE, the national oil company of Ecuador. The extraction of oil there--far from prying eyes--was done in a very dirty way. The area now is deforested and the local water polluted. In 1995, Texaco--to avoid a lawsuit by the Ecuadorian government--spent $0 million dollars to clean the area. The clean-up efforts were shown to be largely cosmetic, however. The litigation was restarted in 2003, this time against Chevron which had purchased Texaco. The case(s) have had a series of amazing twists and turns (including a judge being bribed on camera to rule against Chevron). 

But all the legal shenanigans obscures the real issue, which is what Cardoso focuses on--the area was permanently polluted and Texaco is one of the culprits. Period. As a piece of art with a political meaning, I thought it was strong. As a piece of activism, less so--but that is a problem with most political artwork. I think it was important that this work be seen in Houston, but I would love for it to be displayed for more than three days, though. Maybe a local nonprofit (that isn't dependent on Chevron money) could show it.

Alejandro Leonhardt, Nuevos protocolos (New protocols), installation, variable size at LOCAL Arte Contemporaneo

One of my favorite booths was LOCAL Arte Contemporaneo. The work they showed was not particularly commercial compared to a lot of the other work in the show (and I don't mean "commercial" in a negative way--I just mean that a painting is a lot easier to sell than an installation, usually). I was surprised to see a Chilean gallery with so much conceptual work here. They were just as surprised--they still don't know how HFAF found them. However it happened, I'm glad it did. LOCAL is an artists' space, and two of the artists whose work was on display were there--Javier González Pesce, the director of LOCAL, and Ignacio Murua Daza.

Alejandro Leonhardt, La comida caída se limpia con las manos (Fallen food gets cleaned with the hands), Acrylic piece with low relief inscription on its base, 2010 – 2012

Alejandro Leonhardt, La comida caída se limpia con las manos (Fallen food gets cleaned with the hands), Acrylic piece with low relief inscription on its base, 2010 – 2012

Two of the best pieces were by Alejandro Leonhardt. The one above, La comida caída se limpia con las manos(Fallen food gets cleaned with the hands),  are plastic napkin holders that can double as "brass" knuckles. (That's what it tells you on the bottom.) The object alone isn't the work--it's the act of placing them in a restaurant, which was done for two years in Santiago, Chile.

Ignacio Murua Daza at LOCAL

Ignacio Murua Daza at LOCAL

Ignacio Murua Daza has a series of photos of faded pin-ups found in garages. I guess even in Chile, this is a stereotypical way of decorating a greasy old garage. But Murua Daza suggests that as garages get cleaner and more professional, pin-ups start to disappear. I'd suggest that it's probably less cool for companies that supply garages to print these up for their customers now. So these photos show old faded calendars and pin-ups--the hairstyles on the models look very 80s and 90s.

Javier González Pesce at LOCAL

Javier González Pesce at LOCAL

In my last post, I was pretty bummed out about the pop-oriented art at HFAF. But Daza and Javier González Pesce show a different (and in my view much more effective) way to deal with pop culture. Both artists deal with remnants. They acknowledge the crappy origins of their art. Pesce takes posters and using chemicals, bleaches out the entire image except for specific little bits. The anime posters (Dragonball Z?) are erased except for the distinctive spikey hair of the characters, for example. In doing so, these images that are so common and ubiquitous that they are kind of invisible suddenly become visible again. Pesce makes us think about them. That's what I think the best Pop Art did--it made you actually look at things that your eye normally glosses over.

Rodrigo Araya Yáñez at LOCAL

This image of a vinyl LP was made out of cassette tape--a perfect combination of two mostly obsolete  sound recording technologies.

Seeing LOCAL and dpm gallery reminds me of one thing that HFAF tries pretty hard to do every year--bring some interesting contemporary art from Latin America.

And they do it with local contemporary work as well--apparently they gave Alabama Song the large booth above, which they filled with art by young Houston artists. It was an excellent selection and a great move on the part of HFAF.

Chris Cascio at Alabama Song

The funny thing is that many of the best booths in the whole fair were Houston galleries or art spaces. The one that surprised me the most was Koelsch Gallery. Koelsch is a gallery that I've never been able to quite figure out in terms of the kind of work they show. They're all over the map. But here they had a cool show by W. Tucker, who attempts to channel his inner child in his art. I know that sounds faintly ridiculous, but it works! He draws with his left hand to get a deliberately childlike "ineptness", and the drawings look fantastic. For the art fair, he designed the booth so it really stood out.

W. Tucker's booth for Koelsch Gallery

W. Tucker draws on old 78 rpm records.

W. Tucker, big red elephant house, oil, ink, book cover, nails on wood, 12 1/16 x 15 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches

W. Tucker, light on my right hand, charcoal, resin stick, graphite, ink, 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 2 inches

Of course, artists have been trying to recreate a childlike approach to their art for a long time, from people like Jean Dubuffet to the 90s-era cartoonists who were lumped into the "cute brut" school (James Kochalka, for example). Tucker's attempts feel very convincing.

One of the nicest booths from a local gallery was Hooks-Epstein Gallery. They decided to show exclusively work by Robert Pruitt, who was selected by HFAF as the 2013 artist of the year. 2013 has been a big year for Pruitt--he currently has a solo exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem that has been rapturously received. Hooks-Epstein's selection of work goes back several years and forms a nice mini-retrospective of Pruitt. Excellent work hung tastefully, it's a standout booth at HFAF.

Barkley Hendricks, Pretty Peggy's Black Box, 1976, oil, acrylic and magna on canvas, 66 x 48 inches

It was cool to also see work by Barkley Hendricks, who seems to be a strong influence on Pruitt, at the fair at ACA Galleries.

Luis Jimenez, Honky Tonk, 1981, lithograph, 35 x 50 inches

ACA Galleries also had pieces by a local favorite, Luis Jimenez.

One thing that HFAF always does well is bring galleries that show older generations of Latin American art. You could see work by Ruffino Tamayo, Joaquín Torres Garcia and Carlos Cruz Diez at the show. There were a couple of galleries that specialized in constructivist abstractions. But my favorite exhibitor was Rubbers Internacional from Buenos Aires. They had a show within the gallery of the great Xul Solar. None of the work was for sale (as far as I know)--they just brought it to show it.

Of course, work like this has a little trouble competing against the visual cacophony of the fair. Solar's watercolors, though bright, are small. But take to the time to look at them--they're beautiful and bizarre.

Xul Solar installation at Rubber Internacional

Xul Solar, Proyecto fachada para ciudad, 1954, watercolor on paper, 25.5 x 36.6 cm

Xul Solar, Sin título (Platas y letras), 1955, ink on paper, 16.5 x 22cm

Xul Solar, Dulo Mi More, 1961, tempera on paper, 17 x 21 cm

Xul Solar, Plaza II, 1955, watercolor on paper, 17 x 22 cm

I'm fascinated by Solar's paintings of imaginary buildings. If I were more handy, I'd like to build scale models of them. Solar's city is one I'd like to inhabit.

Antonio Seguí at Rubbers Internacional

Rubbers Internacional also had several works by Antonio Seguí that I found charming.

Antonio Seguí, Gran Ecart, 1998, acrylic, 60 x 73 cm

Antonio Berni, Marino amigo de Ramona, 1964, goffering, 35 x 23 inches at Aldo de Sousa Gallery

Another classic (but little known in the U.S.) Latin American artist who has work at this fair is the Argentinian artist Antonio Berni. He will be the subject of a solo exhibit at the MFAH--his fist solo exhibit in the US in 50 years. (Goffering is apparently the use of an iron to create frills in lace. Berni apparently had an alternate use for a goffering iron.)

Kcho, Tiburon, 2012, fiberglass and clothing, 100 x 48 x 23 inches at PanAmerican Art Projects

This homely but dangerous looking shark is by a Cuban artist with the unpronounceable name Kcho. I like it and like how it is displayed on a packing crate.

Kim Myung Jin Edgewalker at Gallerie Gaia

Kim Myung Jin, Edgewalker at Gallerie Gaia

These two paintings by Kim Myung Jin--both of which were labelled Edgewalker--have a bit of a Basquiat vibe without being slavishly imitative. I found them vigorous and liked the little cartoonish figures that inhabited them.

HFAF is a schizophrenic show. It seems to have a lot of art that really appeals to the basest instincts of collectors (as seen here), but then it has great local art, spectacular historical Latin American art, and provocative contemporary Latin American art. If you like to love art, there is art here to love. If you love to hate bad art, HFAF is well-equipped. If you like both--this could be heaven for you.


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