Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HFAF 2014: The Good Stuff

Robert Boyd

OK, I was pretty harsh on the Houston Fine Art Fair here and here. These things are always a mixture. You have the good and the bad and a lot in between. The problem with HFAF was that the bad was so bad, and there was so much of it, one wonders if good galleries like Shoshana Wayne Gallery and Mark Borghi Fine Art will want to continue their association with the fair. Art fairs need to be curated to an extent, and there was little sense that HFAF was particularly selective.

But even if their inclusion criterion was nothing more than a gallery's willingness to pay the booth fee, some good art sneaked in. Here's some of my favorites.

James Surls at Wade Wilson Gallery

James Surls at Wade Wilson Gallery

I love James Surls and was struck by how nice these large sculptures look inside (I think they are meant to be outdoors sculptures). I was a bit surprised to see Surls associated with Wade Wilson (I though Barbara Davis was his local gallery when he bothered--but a look at the artists page on their website suggests that is no longer true.Wade Wilson Gallery closed their Houston location after opening a Santa Fe gallery. I was a little surprised to see them in Houston--at least one Houston artist had to sue Wade Wilson to get paid in recent years.

Michal Rovner, Yaar (Laila), 2014, LCD screens, paper and video, 46 1/2 x 40 1/2 x 2 3/8 inches at Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Not surprisingly, there wasn't much video art at HFAF. I think there were literally more lenticular artworks than video artworks. But one video piece I liked was this eerie one by Michal Rovner, featuring two lines of people endlessly marching on what looks like the face of a cliff. A group of cypress is in silhouette in the foreground. The latter feature seemed slightly unnecessary--the point of the work was the endless line of marchers. But as I looked closely, I realized that the center tree covered a seam between two video monitors. I guess you have to work with monitors that are actually manufactured, and if you want to have a nearly square image like this, connecting two monitors is the only way to do it. It detracts from the main idea, unfortunately. But I still found Yaar (Laila) to be a rather haunting piece.

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Hearts and Hands Brown and Blue, 2014, 16 mm polyester film, polyester thread, 23 5/8 x 23 1/2 inches at Shoshana Wayne Gallery

I saw Sabrina Gschwandtner's work earlier this year at Pulse. Aside from creating very interesting collages with old bits of 16 mm film, her surname has the highest consonant to vowel ratio of any other artist that I know of. Her pieces require a lightbox to be seen properly. Because the strips of film are sewn together, there is a rather quilt-like quality to her pieces. I find the patterning quite hypnotic.

Sabrina Gschwandtner, Hearts and Hands Brown and Blue (detail), 2014, 16 mm polyester film, polyester thread, 23 5/8 x 23 1/2 inches at Shoshana Wayne Gallery

John Chamberlain, Flywheelsonata, 2007, painted and chromed steel at Mark Borghi Fine Art

This rather antic piece by John Chamberlain exudes a happy feeling not always present in his work, which can be a little anxious in part because the association one may draw from it with car accidents. I know he always claimed to be a formalist, but still his work is from the high tide of the automobile (and thus the auto accident). It's nearly impossible not to think about that. But here, by using narrow strips of brightly painted sheet metal, I get an entirely different feeling.

John Chamberlain prints for sale to benefit the Asia Society

In addition to the John Chamberlain sculpture, HFAF was auctioning off two John Chamberlain prints (and some other artwork) to benefit the Asia Society.

Larry Poons, Untitled #13, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 55 1/2 x 29 inches at Mark Borghi Fine Art

This alarming snot avalanche by Larry Poons was perversely fascinating. 

Luis Jimenez, El Buen Pastor, colored lithograph, 1999 at Redbud Gallery

Redbud Gallery had several Luis Jimenez prints, including this powerful portrait of Esequiel Hernández, Jr., the goat herder killed by U.S. Marines in 1997.

Jim Dine, Double Iron Man, woodcut, 68 x 98 inches at Adamar Fine Arts

When I saw these antic woodcuts, I immediately thought, "Wow!" I would have never guessed that they were by Jim Dine. There is something about these two faces that really grabs me--a combination of the crude cartoonish rendering, the intense and unexpected colors and the restless texture.

Donald Sultan, Screen Aug 25, 1987, aquatint with relief print on reverse, 63 x 144 inches flat at Parkerson Gallery

I wish they had displayed this Donald Sultan on the floor so that we could see both sides of the screen. The image on this side is simple, but I love the smudginess.

Bert Long, Search, 1987, mixed media, 26 x 44 1/2 inches at Deborah Colton Gallery

Great colors on this Bert Long at Deborah Colton Gallery, which had one of the more interesting booths at HFAF.

Suzanne Anker, Carbon Collision in the Diamond Mind 33-40, 2013 metallic glazed porcelain at Deborah Colton Gallery

Suzanne Anker's little porcelain statuettes look decidedly dangerous.

Ferhat Özgür, Corps of Honour, 2011, watercolor on paper, 15.75 x 23.62 inches at Deborah Colton Gallery

Ferhat Özgür had a whole series of bizarre, slightly martial watercolors, including this tender moment between two Turkish soldiers.

The Houston Artists Hall of Fame

Jackie Harris, The Fruitmobile, 1967 Ford station wagon modified 1984

The fair devoted a considerable amount of space to the Houston Artists Hall of Fame, an exhibit of artists chosen by Patricia Covo Johnson. The idea is that there will be new artists added each year. In a way, it might have been a bad idea for HFAF to host this because it showed how weak most of the exhibitors were in comparison. It was nice that Johnson included an art car (one of the very first art cars, in fact) , recognizing the importance of this oddball vernacular art form to Houston.

Jesse Lott, Ascension of the Fire God, ca. 1974, wire and other found materials

two Jim Love sculptures

Manual (Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom), Louis Corinth in Vermont, gelatin silver

Mel Chin, Cross for the Unforgiven, n.d., AK47s and steel

Alabama Song's booth

As they did last year, HFAF comped Alabama Song a booth. Work was hung salon-style and was for sale at all different price points (good idea!). They also had some participatory art happening. Rocky Wang played ping pong with all challengers.

Rocky Wang taking all comers with a shoe

Despite the fact that he handicapped himself by playing with his shoe instead of a paddle, Wang eviscerated every challenger.

Rocky Wang's hat with a tiny ping pong paddle

Rabéa Ballin at Alabama Song

Miguel Amat at Alabama Song

Miguel Amat will be having a show at the Blaffer Gallery later this fall--I'm looking forward to it and so should you.

Fotofest also had a booth which featured an intriguing selection of Arab photographers.

Ahmed Mater, from the series Illumination (Ottoman Waqf), 2014, gold leaf, tea, pomegranate, Dupont prints at Fotofest

Ahmed Mater, from the series Illumination (Ottoman Waqf), 2014, gold leaf, tea, pomegranate, Dupont prints at Fotofest

Hassan Hajjaj, Odd 1 Out, 2000/1421 from the series Kesh Angels, 2009-2012, c-print, walnut wood frame, tomato cans at Fotofest

Lalla Essaydi, Harem #29, 2012, chromogenic print at Fotofest

So it wasn't all bad. But HFAF still has to improve a lot, and their trajectory over the past couple of years has not been in the right direction.

Return of the Asshole

Robert Boyd

Noted vandal Uriel Landeros (see thisthis, this, this and this)  returns with a new series of drawings he calls his "prison series." He posted them on his Facebook page. He describes them thus: "Its like telling a lion to stop being a lion, what dosent kill u makes u stronger. Short preview of my Prison series. The people of change, Patriots, Activist and other influential people." He includes portraits of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Carlos Slim, and Joaquin "El Chapo" Gúzman. Other drawings include a self-portrait behind bars, a masked tagger striking a heroic pose and a couple of "sheeple." Lord they're terrible. But the ballsiest picture is a portrait of Tony Shafrazi.

portrait of Tony Shafrazi by Uriel Landeros

I've lightened the image from Landeros's dark Facebook image so it's a little easier to see. Shafrazi is a very successful gallery owner, but he is best remembered as the asshole who spray painted Guernica in 1974. (Obviously a role model for young Uriel.) Of course, I prefer to think of him as the asshole who assembled a contemporary art collection for the Shah of Iran shortly before the Iranian revolution. (There are many Shafrazi-esque assholes now, selling pricey art to various Gulf State despots as we speak.)

That the little asshole should pay homage to the big asshole seems only fitting, no?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Argument for the Elimination of Art Fairs in Houston: HFAF 2014, part 2

Robert Boyd

(Continued from Part 1)


Federico Uribe at Art Nouveau Gallery

To paraphrase Hennessy Youngman, that's too many pencils, therefore "art!"

Wang Ziwon, Mechanical Buddhahood, 2014, urethane, metallic material, machinery, electronic device (CPU, motor), 37 x 9 x 25 inches at Keumsan Gallery

Why not have a slowly moving slightly creepy doll man in your collection?

Wang Ziwon at Keumsan Gallery

Geraldo Feldstein, Fernandito, iron and resin


Nathan Vincent at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery

Hey, just because it's stunt art doesn't mean I hate it. I liked Nathan Vincent's massively blown up crocheted army man sculpture. It may be nothing more than nostalgia for me, but it looks really cool. Maybe that's enough.

Nathan Vincent, Gold/Silver/Porcelain Glock, 2 x 6 x 6.5 inches each

Another set of Nathan Vincent sculptures. If they didn't sell at the art fair, maybe they could bring them back and sell them at the gun show. At $500 apiece, they are quite competitive with real Glocks.

Chris Hedrick, two thumbs up, carved linden, 24 x 15 x 4 inches at Koelsch Gallery

The biggest show of stunt art was a booth full of Chris Hedrick's wood carvings at Koelsch Gallery. But his "stunt" is his supernatural woodcarving ability and his sense of humor. In a world of deskilled conceptual art, I still doff my hat to anyone who can do what Hedrick does, and the fact he does it with such wit only makes it better.



Bram Reijnders, Saving All My Love For You, mixed media on canvas, 28 x 50 inches

You know me. I love comics. But is there any lazier subject matter in contemporary art than cartoon characters? It's almost always infantile instant gratification. Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami know this, and so do many less famous artists at HFAF.

Bram Reijnders, Famous Mouse Escapes, mixed media on canvas, 33 x 72 inches

Nelson De la Nuez, Be Happy, hand painted mixed media on canvas

Sure, these kinds of figures can be ironic, or can have powerful resonance by using common childhood tropes. There are ways to use them meaningfully in art. But that wasn't on the menu at HFAF.

Nick Veasey, Superman Takes a Break, c-type x-ray phootcgraphic print, 60 x 47 inches at Evan Lurie Gallery

Terry Thompson, Cap'n Crunch Pop, 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

Fifty-odd years ago, this kind of thing was transgressive and bracing. Now it is pure shit.

Gary John, Comic, acrylic on Korean Newspaper, 30 x 30 inches

Sometimes an artist brings a particular personal style to cartoons, and sometimes that works. But not Gary John's pieces, alas.



Dina Gustin Baker, Crescendo, 2008, oil on canvas, 50 x 64 inches

Some pieces seem to be marketed less at collectors than at decorators. This must infuriate serious abstractionists, but let's face it--people like art that looks good in their house. In a way, the sign of a true collector is that her collection makes no sense as decoration. In other words, it doesn't look good with the couch.

Haessle (sic) at Kips Gallery

Kim Keunjoong at KP Projects

This isn't to say that these works are necessarily bad. I was really impressed by this intensely colored painting by Kim Keunjoong--the flowers were like decorative embroidery, and the line of gnomic text provides an unexpectedly straight contrast to the swirling curves of the flowers. So maybe this would have appealed to a collector. But just as likely it appealed to a decorator.



I could post photos of bad art from this fair all day long, but this post is getting too damn long. But I did want to spotlight these two exceptional pieces.

Jacques Lebscond at Frederic Got Gallery

Yuroz at Murloge Gallery/Off the Wall Gallery

I love how Yuroz churns out kitsch paintings in a watered down version of a style that ran out of steam almost a hundred years ago. (There's a great picture of him meeting the Pope on his website.)



Max-Steven Grossman, (top) Art SP, 2013, photo composition on lucite, 48 x 100 and (bottom) Musica, 2014, photo composition on lucite, 48 x 100 inches at Axiom Contemporary

Max-Steven Grossman's lifesize photos  of libraries offended me more than any other piece of art at HFAF. This was a very personal offense. Lot's of things that offend other people don't offend me at all, but the fundamentally anti-intellectual conception of these photos sickened me. I love books. I love reading. These images take the place of books, almost literally. The space they occupy on your wall is the space you could have for actual books. Indeed, if you wanted to, for the price of one of these photos, you could very likely buy copies of every single book pictured--with money to spare for some Ikea bookshelves. You could carefully arrange the books you just bought to look like these photos. And as an added bonus, you could read the books if you so chose.

Grossman's photos in effect say, "Books are fine decorations, but what kind of brainiac loser actually reads them?"

OK, I will admit--these last two posts have been cruel. But HFAF deserves it. This art fair was a slap in the face, a statement that Houston deserves all the kitsch they can shovel down our throats. We've seen the two art fairs, TCAF and HFAF, dramatically shrink this year. I question in the long run if Houston can even support one art fair. But I know in my gut that we can't support two. As lame as TCAF was this year, if one of these fairs has to go under, I hope it is HFAF. Perhaps in such a circumstance, TCAF could absorb all that's good in HFAF and become a better art fair.

Because there was good stuff in HFAF. In the last two posts I've focused almost exclusively on the negative. But my next post will be a catalog of things I liked at HFAF.

Argument for the Elimination of Art Fairs in Houston: HFAF 2014, part 1

Robert Boyd

an art lover on Preview Night sporting an awesome shirt

Last year, I observed that the Houston Fine Art Fair had some seriously bad art, but I also happily discussed the art I found admirable. This fair, smaller than less year (like TCAF), had less to recommend it. It was an improvement in some ways over the previous HFAF--last year, I counted at least five Marilyn Monroe images. This year, there was only one that I noticed.

Craig Alan, Trance, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 at Lawrence Cantor Fine Art

Craig Alan, Trance (detail), oil on canvas, 48 x 48 at Lawrence Cantor Fine Art

Craig Alan's Trance, if you look very close at the canvas, is quite charming. The little grey and white figures, wandering hither and yon--it's like an abstraction of Washington Square Park on a fall afternoon in a world where top hats are really popular. It's only when you step away that your good feelings are rudely deflated. 

But this year there were fewer Marilyns and fewer celebrities in general. But you can't fully escape them at the HFAF.



Alexi Torres, John Lennon, oil on canvas, 72 x 68 at Evan Lurie Gallery

It wouldn't be HFAF without at least one John Lennon and one painting by Alexi Torres.

Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, 141, 1975, screenprint, 44 x 29 inches at Adamar Fine Arts

And there are always a few blue chip artists at HFAF. This Andy Warhol reminds you why his reputation deservedly nosedived in the 70s.

Jörg Döring, Champion, mixed media on canvas, 51 x 51 inches at Brisset Art Gallery

Jörg Döring, Fly first class, mixed media on canvas, 59 x 59 inches at Brisset Art Gallery

Rolland Berry, David Bowie Ziggy Stardust, 24 x 24 inches, mixed media at Lawrence Cantor Fine Art

Rolland Berry, Sex Pistols, 24 x 24 inches, mixed media at Lawrence Cantor Fine Art

Any picture of the Sex Pistols that leaves out Paul Cook and Steve Jones is an abomination in my view. (Not to mention Glenn Matlock.)

I was a teenager once--I had posters of rock stars on my walls. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. Perhaps A.O. Scott was right.



Then there was the art at HFAF that seemed desperately happy. I wonder about the need to surround yourself with artwork so affirming that it borders on oppressive.

Bernard St. Maxent, Love in Pink, mixed media, 100 x 100 cm. at Frederic Got

The French are so sophisticated!

Bernard St. Maxent, Trois Art, mixed media, 110 x 110 cm. at Frederic Got

Mackenzie Thorpe at Murloge Gallery/Off the Wall Gallery

Mackenzie Thorpe at Murioge Gallery/Off the Wall Gallery

Mackenzie Thorpe at Murioge Gallery/Off the Wall Gallery

It would be easy to make fun of Mackenzie Thorpe's art, but I don't necessarily see anything wrong with happy decorative objects. They look like the kind of things you would give your mom on Mother's day--and there's nothing wrong with that. What I don't get is why are these in an art fair? Can't you get stuff like this in gift shops all over the world for a fraction of the price?  Is this gallery trying to make a case that this stuff is art?



Gaston Ugalde at PSH Projects

For some strange reason, there is always a lot of art that has to do with money at art fairs. I can't figure it out! What's the connection between "art" and "money"?

Nelson de La Nuez, Take the Money and Run, Hand painted mixed media on canvas at Bruce Lurie

Paul Rousso, A Thousand Going Twice, mixed media on hand sculpted acrylic, 44 x 39 x 7 inches at George Billis Gallery

Now admittedly some people might call this art crass and idiotic. What people, you ask? Poor people.

Andy Warhol, $ (Quadrant) II.283, screenprint on Lenox Board, 40 x 32 inches at Adamar Fine Art

The most reliable way of determining whether art is great or not is how well it flatters rich people, and no one was better at that than Andy Warhol. That's why he was and remains the greatest contemporary artist.

Ken Little, Pledge, 2002, $1 bills over a steel frame, 71 x 31 x 17 inches at d.m. allison

Ken Little, bubby--you just don't get it. You can't flatter the rich with a bunch of one dollar bills. Your sculptures and collages may be witty and clever, but they're chump change.

Ken Little, Pledge, 2002, $1 bills over a steel frame, 72 x 32 x 23 inches at d.m. allison

Ken Little, Pledge, 2008, found object collage at d.m. allison



We live in a high-tech age, and that's reflected in art. We see robotic art, internet art, interactive art, LED art, etc.  But the most exciting high tech art of all uses the technology that brought us winking postcards from Stuckey's and turns it into art. Yes, I'm talking about lenticular images.

Park Hyung-Jin, Peace of mind, 2014, mixed media on lenticular screen, 80 x 80 cm

The eyes--so haunting!

Park Hyung-Jin, Redemption_02, 2013, mixed media on lenticular screen, 105 x 105 cm

They're birds but they fishes but then they birds again oh jeez. MIND. BLOWN.

Jeff Robb, Unnatural Causes #4, lenticular photographic print, 40 x 40 inches

Jeff Robb produces the perfect art for the hip dude-bro pad--it's the art equivalent of two girls fake making out at a bar in Midtown. It's not sleazy, bro--it's art!