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Feature Wed Sep 14 2011
Last Friday several galleries around the city kicked off their fall programming with opening exhibitions featuring work by their crème de la crème. A/C writers Natalie Edwards and Kelly Reaves each spent the night frantically hopping from show to show, trying to absorb as much of it as they could, with their powers combined. Here are their impressions:
Kelly: This is an engaging, quality group video show in a cool, new(ish) space. The first piece that confronts you upon your entering the gallery is chopped up footage of Whitney Houston from The Bodyguard. She is on two "battling" monitors, which you can stand between, walk between, or awkwardly squeeze around. I believe one Whitney is only singing "I" and the other is only singing "you". I thoroughly enjoyed it and it looked like other people were enjoying it, too. I would have liked to stand between the monitors but, at least on the opening night, the amusement proved too popular for my tight schedule.
The rest of the work was also very bodily and confrontational. Some included footage of people's faces, one just two people's eyes, so close that they their eyelashes touch as they blink. In the basement, a longer video features a woman engaged in an unusual dance routine that, at some points appears graceful and at other times looks like her body is waging war with itself.
Kelly: This bright, tiny space in the heart of a bright, giant building on Ogden has kept it simple with Hunter's show, showing a modest yet bold collection of two and three-dimensional objects. Materiality and construction are clearly points of interest in Hunter's work. Some of it, like the large, stapled and painted 2x4 sculpture leaning in the corner and the (adorably) inane little black thing in the middle of the room appealed to me more than other pieces. All in all, this is a nice little kinda safe, kinda rebellious solo show.
Kelly: This was my first visit to Tony Wight's new space on Washington. It's bigger than their last, which means there is more space to hang big, boring abstract photographs -- between Kasten and Tamar Halpern they certainly seem to have their bases covered in that market. That is not to say Tony Wight doesn't show engaging work; the gallery represents a few of my favorite artists, actually. I just wasn't turned on by this show. The press release mentions Robert Irwin and James Turrell and I can't help but imagine that if Kasten had taken more literal cues from those guys and installed the actual glass and lights in the gallery rather than in the studio and photographing them, the show would be more stimulating. For what it's worth, however, I did enjoy the piece pictured at the bottom (see the bad photograph below) for its graceful simplicity and clever use of mirrors as a compositional tool.
Kelly: The large, outrageously-colorful abstract paintings in the front room are certainly eye-catching. They are well-composed, youthful and dynamic, but upon close inspection the paint seems almost neglected or abused -- so watered down. They're like AbEx for post-Recessioners. Thrify expressionism, if you will -- as if we can't afford to pile paint on like the generation before us. Add a whole lot of turpentine but use neon paint and people will think we're throwing caution to the wind! Don't get me wrong, the paintings are nice, I was just confused by the conservative application of paint on such bold, abstract work.
In the "main gallery", Holmquist shows a grid of tiny paintings and more experimental works, which people seemed to spend more time with. They are quirky, personal, and thoughtful. Delightful, even. Make sure to stop in there.
Todd Mattei's "Healing" in the "project room", a simple two-channel video projection in the corner paired with the sounds of people sleep-breathing (or so it sounds), is elegant and romantic. On the opening night I found myself in the room with it and only one other couple, who were sitting on the floor, cuddling. I'm not sure if that context screwed with my interpretation of the piece, but the lamps and the breathing called to mind the sweetness and intimacy of sharing a bed with a loved one, and it was nice. The room just makes you want to stay there.
Kelly: Great show. And from what I've heard, everyone else dug it, too. In the front room, Jason Lazarus has built a, well, a pyramid/platform sort of thing which viewers can climb. At the top, you can look inside, where people are sitting and sketching (excuse my terrible photograph of them below). It's got a batcave sort of feel to it, as if this white pyramid is a metaphor for all of creation and the people inside represent all the artists, trudging away at their next masterpiece/failure. This interpretation allows the viewer, who sits at the top of the pyramid, peering down at the artists, to adopt a god-like role. And who doesn't enjoy that from time to time?
The back room has been covered in plywood, and it houses Cody Hudson's sculptures, which are also made largely of bandsaw-cut cut plywood, and are delightfully simple. On the wall, a neon sign reads "Punks not dead", but upside-down, in a highly referential and assumedly deeply tongue-in-cheek gesture.
Kelly: Otero's work used to be much more fascinating.
But seriously, outside of the initial "how did he do it?" impulse of curiosity, there's not much to contemplate here. Here's to all the weird-ass things you can do with oil paint and all the money you can make selling said paintings at Kavi Gupta.
Kelly: And there you have it -- the first time we've used an emoticon in (and in place of) an art review on Gapers Block.
Kelly: This is a very generous show with a lot going on. It is colorful, playful, very material-aware -- all the things I tend to like. Apparently the objects in the show were created for the space to represent Cahill's ongoing research project, The Orphanage Project, which is mostly comprised of sketches and a few published conversations. Thankfully, rather than putting up dry, academic ephemera, Cahill has given us something fun to look at. Make sure to check out the threewalls site for a deeper look into this intriguing project.
Natalie: I went back to see the show a second time. I was particularly fond of the clunky uncomfortable-looking bear rug in the front gallery. At eye level (I'm 5'2", so this will be a different experience for taller people, as is most of life), the bear rug is furry terrain. Even in a crowded gallery, this giant rug plays well with the viewer. And you're right Kelly, this is a very playful show. When I was a kid, my cousin and I would play this game called "Which would you rather" while looking through the Toys'R'Us catalog, and I found myself doing that at this show.
Kelly: Shellabarger's work in the main gallery is substantially less interesting than his performance work, from which it was created. A woodcut made with sandpaper-covered boots resembles a minimalist welcome mat on the floor; a drypoint print on the wall serves as the documentation of the artist's pacing back and forth while dragging sandpaper-covered gloves across steel plates. We are left with the not-so-satisfying residue of intriguing performance work.
Natalie: Well put, Kellz. Can I call you Kellz? One of Stan Shellabarger's books--a low-lying, stretched out carbon print of his footsteps, made me nervous. Just inches from the floor, this unfurled book was a walking hazard. That the book was a record of his feet hitting the floor and then became an obstacle to others traversing the floor it was placed on seemed nice and tidy, conceptually, to me. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
Kelly: In Gallery 2, Maria Petschnig presents With the Door Closed, a mixed-media installation that includes the single-channel video "An Evening at Home'" and a new series of photographs. Petsching has transformed the little room into a living room of sorts by painting the walls beige and throwing in a rug and a bit of furniture. She uses her background as a painter to compose the photographs, which are semi-abstracted compositions created by photographing her own body, adorned in unusual BSDM-like creations of spandex and leather. These photographs are perhaps the most accessible objects in this room that feels like we are not supposed to be in, due to their formal, abstract qualities. Western Exhibitions perhaps says it best: "Petschnig's carefully considered viewing environments deny the privilege of safe and passive observation, further heightening the awareness of one's voyeuristic inclinations."
This is not your grandma's art exhibition.
Natalie: While this was the more challenging and certainly less ephemeral portion of the Western Exhibitions show, I didn't feel the need to do the work. Maria Petschnig's photo bondage living room still felt like a gallery and not like an invasion of privacy. I felt like I was supposed to be there, but assumed I was supposed to feel otherwise.
Kelly: Sure, but then couldn't you say that about all shows dealing with voyeurism?
Natalie: Maybe I'm just cut out for ephemera.
Kelly: You can tell by the progression of his work over the past few years that Gunn is growing up. Glitter and plastic has been replaced by wicker and hardwood, for the most part, but the materials are still largely non-art materials. What remains is informed by the same aesthetic; it is just more organic. Maybe less trendy? This is a show of attractive, highly-crafted abstract wall-coverings. But not just that, of course...
"I am trying to construct an indifferent object that has recently become the object of desire, yet leave it in that mixed state," says Gunn.
I think that says it, right there. There is a preciousness to the objects -- maybe because they sparkle, maybe because you can just barely see Gunn's hand in them -- but they are too sophisticated to be merely craft work. I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes it next.
Kelly: This is a show of traditional, yet self-aware, small oil paintings, which demonstrate an interest in the fundamental structure of Painting on Canvas via tweaking. Canvas has been sliced to reveal an additional painted layer beneath. Stretchers have been altered from their pristine rectangular form to remind viewers that they are there, holding it all together. The ideas here are great, the subject and style are pleasantly referential and the process holds a lot of potential. The objects that hang on the wall, however, fail to pique much interest.
Public School Presents: Homework @ The Family Room:
Kelly: Austin-based art collective, Public School, has put up a super-accessible, and dare I say "cute", exhibit of prints and photographs at the Post's Family Room, which I imagine this will be the more popular shows of the ones I visited. Highlights include funny documentary photo collections of cowboys and dilapidated basketball hoops. This is certainly not the most thought-provoking art exhibit I've seen, but it served as a welcome respite from hoity-toity white cubes. Check out the third photo down - my favorite cowboy.
Natalie: I think the moment that defined the evening for me is when one of my companions knocked over a "devilled eggs" picket sign in the breezeway that separated the beer from the artwork and a Post Family member said not to worry about it. This show lacked preciousness (there were no wall mounted titles next to pieces) and cynicism (Will Bryant says he makes work because he gets sad if he doesn't). And if it's okay to talk about general vibes of spaces, I'm going to say that the work in this space seemed to make people happy. It was cute without being saccharine, and clever without being snarky. It wasn't political, yet it wasn't Hello Kitty-y. Also, nice to be in an art space dominated by designers. They all have nice glasses.
Natalie: One of the curses of smushing yourself in a space full of narrative art on opening nights is that, unless you are on whatever the new Ritalin is, the work is difficult to follow. And so, some pieces worked better than others. Tucked into a smaller room of the exhibit, Grant Reynolds created a space for eyes to get stuck, even if reluctantly. His black and white pornographic girl-on-girl drawings depicting women pulling some sort of blood slime out of each other's vaginas while making out, were unsettling in their precision. Next to the ink porn, Reynolds has composed a cascading narrative sculpture depicting a tortured man's reunion with a giant cat.
While you're in the area, head over to the giant wall drawing by Anders Nilsen, a panel from his new, gorgeous 600-page tome Big Questions. And when you are done looking at that wall, you must head over to Quimby's to buy Big Questions, which has kept me up weeping for the last two days.
The gulf between Nilsen and Reynolds is indicative of a well-curated show that shows the range of contemporary comic artists.
Theo Boggs: High&Tight///Solo///Lobo @ Casualiving:
These installations by Theo Boggs--who describes himself both as a laborer and a Non-Unionized Space Cowboy--are composed mainly of manly props: ladders, tires, fencing, shovels, a plaster wolf head. The classic rock playing from atop one of the studio mate's living quarters, the brick walls and glossy wood floors, the Old Style up for grabs, and the room, divided lengthwise by a sawhorse that thinks it's a balance beam, joined forces to knock me into a non-Peoria-ified gallery moment. If stepping into your grandparents' conceptual multipurpose den workshop in the 70s could ever be reassuring, it is now.
*Click on the titles for details about the shows.
**All photos by Kelly Reaves unless otherwise noted.