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Features Green by Design: Eco-Conscious Architecture in Houston

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My City, My Museum: The MFAH’s Multi-Visit Program

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Classical Gas: Musicians Become Masters at Texas Music Festival

Sustainability and green architecture are necessarily intertwined concepts and Houston, along with Los Angeles, is currently lead- ing the country in both. While sometimes considered a hard business which focuses on the financial bottom line, architecture is also inherently an art form—the ingenuity of which is empha- sized through architecture that highlights natural and recycled ele- ments in its design.

In 1990, a young University of Houston violin student named Alan Austin was chosen to participate in the first-ever Texas Music Fes- tival – the name alone potentially misleading, since the music in- volved no steel or electric guitars, no references to lost highways, women or beer, and no lyrics requiring that certain telltale twang.

Galveston: Reinvigorated City by the Sea Embraces the Arts

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“We are Who We Are”: Queer Identity and Art

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Nicola Parente: Journey

Parente challenges us, as local residents, to acknowledge the speed of our lives and to not just accept but to evaluate our emotions regarding time and progress.

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When I moved to Houston, it wasn’t long before I looked for my new art house down the street. I may have lost the close proxim- ity, but the feeling of ownership of the city’s cultural resources remained. Theses days, I like to see an exhibit several times. I pre- fer the luxury of that approach. I wonder if other people think that way.

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Something over a century ago, everything that was old about Galveston was washed away and a new Galveston was allowed and/or forced to emerge.

The question of “queer” art pivots on axes significant to us all— public and private, person and performance. Because we tend to conflate who we are with who we love and desire, issues of sexuality and sexual identity make fertile areas for artistic explora- tion.

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“…there is a growing demand for green/vegetated walls, roofs and other external expressions of a building’s energy efficiency and sustainability. This opens up a new vocabulary in building design as components like wind turbines, solar panels and vegetation begin to drive what buildings look like.” -Kathleen English

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Departments

Reviews

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Houston Grand Opera: Billy Budd Nova Arts Project: Love Loves a Pornographer Stages Repertory Theatre: Rounding Third Ars Lyrica: Duelling Divas Contemporary Arts Museum: The Old, Weird America Blaffer Gallery: Houston Area Show The Menil Collection: How Artists Draw Wade Wilson Art: Anne Appleby and Maddy Rosenberg

Publisher’s Note Editor’s Picks Graze Restaurant Review: Beaver’s

Nine out of ten Texans agree: the last thing most of us want is any restaurant that forces us to use the words “barbecue” and “new” in the same sentence.

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artshouston publisher’s note Issue Eighty Six Founder Chas Haynes Publisher Frank Rose Associate Publisher Varina Rush Editor in Chief,Visual Arts Tria Wood Editor in Chief, Performing Arts John DeMers Sales Manager/ Photographer Kara Duval Interns Karen Lopez Issue Contributors Holly Beretto Sean Carroll Garland Fielder Sarah Gajkowski-Hill Lester Marks Tom Richards Nancy Wozny

ArtsHouston is published monthly in Houston, Texas. ISSN 1541-6089. All rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the expressed written consent of the publisher. Copyright 2008. Individual issues may be purchased for $3.00, a yearly subscription (12 monthly issues) for $28.00. For advertising information, call (713) 589-9472. Letters to the editor may be sent to: ArtsHouston, 3921 Austin Street, Houston, Texas 77004; or frank@artshouston.com. Tel (713) 589-9472 • Fax (713) 429-4191 Web: artshouston.com 4

Dear Readers This month Sarah Gajkowski-Hill brings us stories of arts organizations keeping their buildings “green.” Apama Mackey Gallery, MECA and Elder Street Lofts and Gallery are all utilizing architecture in ways that embody sustainable principles. Perhaps surprisingly, Houston is becoming a leader in the U.S. in green building practices. We may be a leader in the opposite as well, with demolitions abounding across the city, Houston is not exactly known for preservationist attitudes. We also explore queer identity through three Houston-linked artists. Tria Wood writes, “gay and lesbian artists, in particular, often find that expressing themselves means confronting or exposing their sexual selves as well. Through their work, viewers may feel challenged; however, because our dominant culture is so immersed in heterosexual structures, the average viewer is probably unaccustomed to thinking about heterosexual art in terms of its own undertones of power, desire and identity. Through the lens of queer theory, we may come to better understand the impetus that operates under the surface of almost anyone’s artwork.” John DeMers takes us on a tour of the arts in Galveston. From commercial galleries to non-profit spaces and theatre, Galveston is developing its own full-fledged arts scene. The above image is a detail from Julia Barello’s installation Profusion + Multiplicity as seen at the Galveston Arts Center. You’ll also find features on the Texas Music Festival, the Multi-Visit Program for high schoolers at the MFAH and Houston painter, Nicola Parente. Clearly you are reading an electronic version of this magazine. We are planning some exciting changes for the fall and are taking a break for the Summer. This is an extra large issue found in the digital realms only and we will be back with more printed matters in September. Enjoy!

Publisher, Frank Rose frank@artshouston.com


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june editor’s picks Big Range Dance Festival

The Big Range Dance Festival kicks off year six with performances by Houston’s rising choreographers, established artists such as Karen Stokes, Jennifer Wood, and Amy Ell, along with a healthy mix of out-of-towners. UH associate professor of dance Teresa Chapman curates Program B which includes a rare performance of Turkish choreographer Aydin Teker’s modern dance meets contortion solo, STKH. The solo, performed by Houston native Kelly Knox, has been seen in Istanbul, Ankara, Zurich, New York, Paris and now Houston. “The piece gives off this strange feeling of isolation and Kelly’s performance in this solo is mesmerizing,” says Chapman. “She approaches it with such clear focus and determination.” Chapman will also premiere new work of her own, 3 Wishes, on Holly Clark and has invited Cal Arts faculty member Stephanie Nugent to perform as well. Up and comer Mechelle Flemming is creating a series of solos set to music by Radiohead. The annual Dance Gathering is open to anyone that can stay in motion for four minutes or less, and the festival conChallenging conceptions of “insider” and “outsider” art, NeoHooDoo, opening June 27 at cludes with the coveted “Buffy” award. the Menil Collection, offers an intergenerational group of artists who address ritual in the

NeoHooDoo

May 30-June 15. barnevelder.org

artistic process and the wider implications of spirituality in contemporary art. The artists in the exhibition frequently create work using everyday objects that resonate both within the confines of a gallery or museum and among members of their own local audiences, who may or may not visit art institutions. Works on view include pieces by William Cordova and Dario Robleto. menil.org LEFT: Brian Jungen, 1990, 2007 BELOW: Alexis Leyva Kcho, Kayak from the Objetos Peligrosos series, 2002

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The Splasher

What happens when anarchists and artists become embroiled in a turf war over who owns the streets? And how does society determine the winners and the losers? When mysterious paint splatterings begin appearing around the city, targeting the work of prominent street artists, an ironic cat-and-mouse game threatens to expose the toxic truth at the heart of today’s graffiti culture. And a vigilante finds redemption and justice, but not the way he expected. Based on true, recent events, The Splasher is a funny, intriguing and visually dynamic exploration of art, crime and punishment, by Troy Schulze and presented by The Catastrophic Theatre. The Splasher runs through June 14 at DiverseWorks Artspace. To purchase tickets, call the DiverseWorks box office at 713-335-3445 or visit their website at diverseworks.org.

Old School/New School

Houston Ballet mixes old school with new school by pairing August Bournonville’s La Sylphide with Stanton Welch’s world premiere of A Doll’s House. “I love the contrast,” says Welch. La Sylphide is thought to be the first ballet performed on pointe (by Maria Taglioni) back in 1832. Poor Maria didn’t even have a decent pair of pointe shoes back then. To get the authentic look for Sylphide, Houston Ballet brought in Johnny Eliasen, an expert in Bournonville style. The second part of the program consists of Welch’s newest work, A Doll’s House. Welch drew his inspiration for the ballet from István Márta’s riveting percussion score and composer’s notes that tell the tale of a group of dolls that stage a war when the toy store owner goes out one evening. It doesn’t turn out well. (Wars rarely do.) They end up using an “ultimate” weapon and no one comes out with a pulse. “It’s about the futility of war,” says Welch. “No one wins this war.” Welch crafts his new ballet to work on two levels, much like a Pixar film. There’s a serious track for adults and another more fun and your face one for cartoon lovers. Costumes by in-house designer team Monica Guerra and Travis Halsey draw from Japanese Anime and American superheros. Guerra and Hasley raided Home Depot to bring their bizarre characters to come to life. They each come complete with elaborate head pieces, and weapons, no less. June 5-15, Wortham Center. Call 713-227-2787 or houstonballet.org

Extremely Shorts

Aurora Picture Show’s most popular annual event returns June 28-29 with the 11th installment of juried short shorts submitted from around the globe. Veteran juror and avant-garde film/video guru, Ed Halter, will be in attendance to celebrate 10 continuous years of earth-shaking programming at Aurora. Enjoy karaoke and good food by moon-light on the final night of the festival. To get you pumped for the festival, come down to Discovery Green June 27 at 8pm to catch a free screening of The Best of Extremely Shorts featuring films and videos from over ten years of Aurora’s annual Extremely Shorts festival, selected by online audience voting. You can vote for your faves online at: aurorapictureshow.org/form.asp?formid=3. Visit aurorapictureshow.org for more info. ABOVE: still from Monkey vs. Robot by Geoff Marslett 7


Green By Design: Eco-conscious Architecture in Houston

By Sarah Gajkowski-Hill

Sustainability and green architecture are necessarily intertwined concepts and Houston, along with Los Angeles, is currently leading the country in both. While sometimes considered a hard business which focuses on the financial bottom line, architecture is also inherently an art form—the ingenuity of which is emphasized through architecture that highlights natural and recycled elements in its design.

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here are surprisingly strict international trade restrictions on things like metal recyclable shipping containers, the sides of which make up train cars—these restrictions complicate the possibilities for their reuse. However, environmentally conscious artists and architects have decided to up-cycle them (as opposed to recycle, which breaks down metal and wastes energy). The Mackey Gallery in the Heights is one such space that is built from these re-purposed containers, creating what is virtually a mobile gallery. The innovative and environmentally conscious owner, Apama Mackey, decided to merely rent the land on which the gallery rests from a developer, and was told that she may need to move the gallery when new development was scheduled. The three recycled shipping containers which make up the gallery, arranged in a U-shape and including an enclosed patio, are only 1400 square feet in contrast to her last gallery space, which was upwards of 5000 square feet. The nomadic nature of the shipping containers is not their only selling point; they reduce the need for structure in the building such as framing wood, sheathing, or drywall and their durability ensures a long second life of use. They also exceed the code for insulation by 35%, making them extremely efficient to heat and cool. Repurposed shipping container buildings are to serve as the sample unit and sales offices of the Harvest Moon Development Company, a brand new father/son team of build-

ers. Built on the site of a yet-to-be realized condominium structure slated to be called The Mirabeau B. at Hyde Park, these container buildings are only the beginning. Adding green space to a structure, especially a condominium complex, can be considered an art form in the way that it promotes community and places interaction on a higher level than hermit-like seclusion. The common area of the complex will be solar powered, and only the finest quality of materials will be used—not a standard practice for the developers who are hoping to make a quick buck. Dad, Joe Romano, has a background in renewable energy and son Joey, who plans on living in the unit himself, is confident that the greater upfront cost for the smaller units (of which there will be only fourteen, rather than the much larger number they could’ve chosen for the sizable lot) will pay off with its economic sustainability and green additions. This is a building that, unlike some of the eyesores that soar above residential bungalows in Montrose or the Heights, will fit into the feel of the neighborhood and will be built to last. Bigger organizations tend to focus on materials and concentrate on the larger picture of urban planning. They should vow to address the problem of sustainability by looking “…holistically at land use, planning and community issues,” as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) mission statement says. According to the Houston chapter of the AIA housed in the Architecture

OPPOSITE: Apama Mackey Gallery LEFT: Apama Mackey

Center of Houston (ArCH), our city is second only to Los Angeles in green architecture and, in fact, is on its way to becoming the leader for the nation in just a few years time. The technical explanation of this has to do with the number of LEED (a governmental rating system for green design) registered projects and square footage of office space under construction in our city. In order to demonstrate proposals to the architectural community of Houston and the general public, ArCH will present a month-long exhibit at ArCH this November and December which will highlight the various already-realized projects as well as those which could benefit Houston in the future. One such exhibit will showcase the work of Mark Oberholzer, innovator of the small vertical-axis wind turbines inside highway dividers. Oberholzer liked the idea of repurposing the vast amount of wind power along the “New Jersey Barrier” as opposed to having to invest energy to power clean and efficient public transportation. Having private transportation power public transportation is another way to cut down on waste and to create sustainable infrastructure. Kathleen English, AIA, LEED AP, of English and Associates Architects, explains the way the art aesthetic plays into green architecture by equating the trend to most other art movements. At first, any new trend is considered avant-garde and is basically unpopular, but “later, as the overall public’s level of aesthetic evolves, new art and also green buildings become more popular, and therefore sought after.” She continues: “I see that trend happening now as the minority that has supported modern looking homes now want those homes to exhibit green features prominently…there is a growing demand for green/ vegetated walls, roofs and other external expressions of a building’s energy efficiency and sustainability. This opens up a new vocabulary in building design as components like wind turbines, solar panels and vegetation begin to drive what buildings look like.” Another very important aspect 9


of sustainability is historic preservation—it costs money and energy to tear down a structure. The decision to keep older and sturdier buildings is often based on aesthetics as well. One organization that, through grant monies, has made great strides this past year is MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts). This thirty year old nonprofit provides performing arts education in the community and public schools. Serving over 5,000 students a year, the first phase of renovation for their historic building near the police station downtown was originally going to cost $100,000, but the window replacement alone skyrocketed to $600,000. The 198 energy efficient windows are safe and true to the era in which the building was built, around 1912. Another building on the same side of town, the Elder Street Artist Lofts, promises affordable, spacious warehouse and living quarters for artists. They maintain that they contribute to the environment by preserving one of the city’s most fabled buildings, the Jefferson Davis Hospital. Erected in 1924 on a Civil War era municipal cemetery, the lofts boast a rooftop garden and a community salad garden. The residents, at their own leisure, moved the bricks and dirt, and now oversee the garden from sowing through harvest, at which time there are vegetables and herbs for all the residents to share. Not only has this strengthened the community who resides there, but the renovated loft space has helped raise the property values and popularity of its Washington Corridor neighborhood. At one time it seemed as though the developers who held Houston in their grip would never cease to tear down and rebuild. The idea of a building still existing after fifty years seemed a hopeless case except in the most deed restricted areas. Perhaps the new consciousness of aesthetics and the belief that green living is a boon to our society in general is the optimistic future for our city, brought about by architects, artists, and the public who appreciate these new trends.

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OPPOSITE TOP: Elder Street Lofts at the old Jefferson Davis Hospital OPPOSITE BOTTOM: Community Garden at Elder Street Lofts ABOVE: MECA’s expensive window restorations RIGHT: Outdoor stage at MECA BELOW: MECA’s Virgin Mary constructed from soda cans

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My City, My Museum: The MFAH’s Multi-Visit Program

By Nancy Wozny

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useums have always been extensions of my urban environment. Perhaps it’s because my Italian parents valued art along right up there with the Pope, food, and education. Or maybe it’s because I went to school across the street from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York for eight years. The museum was my home away from home, my playground, a quiet place to do my homework. (The Clifford Still room worked particularly well for math.) My adolescent mind found solace in Jackson Pollock’s energetic canvases and Rosenberg’s wonderfully disjointed collages. What happens when we live and breathe the same air as these seminal paintings? 12


OPPOSITE: Darius Marta, Freshman, Atascocita HS, 2006

“The trips to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston were a great experience. I learned a lot while I was looking at all the paintings and works of art. I am honored to have my paintings hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.”

ABOVE: George Ramirez BOTTOM LEFT: Jennifer Navarro, Freshman, Atascocita HS, 2006 BELOW: Atascocita students viewing a painting

When I moved to Houston, it wasn’t long before I looked for my new art house down the street. I may have lost the close proximity, but the feeling of ownership of the city’s cultural resources remained. Theses days, I like to see an exhibit several times. I prefer the luxury of that approach. I wonder if other people think that way. George Ramirez wonders about it, too. Ramirez is the MFAH’s Manager of Student Programs & Technology Projects. He’s in charge of several programs that help people of all ages re-frame their thinking when it comes to art and the role of museum. The Multi-Visit Program, aims directly at creating a kind of comfort experience for high school students. He is also in charge of Eye on the Third Ward, which is going into its 13th year.

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Unlike myself, Ramirez did not grow up in close proximity to a museum, nor did he have an early exposure to art. “Our life centered around family gatherings,” says Ramirez, recalling his San Antonio upbringing. “I didn’t go to a museum until I was in college.” During his college years, Ramierz also became interested in photography. “My idea of photography was limited to what I saw in magazines and newspapers,” he says. Ramirez remembers when his whole world turned around with a photograph of a cabbage leaf by Edward Weston. Then he encountered the oddly enchanting world of Diane Arbus. “Her work really resonated with me,” he recalls. Ramirez took an internship at the Blue Star Gallery, where he recalls one life-changing experience when he helped Sandy Skoglund hang leaves as part of her instal-

Nicki Zachary, Freshman, Atascocita HS, 2006

“My painting of the sleeping green dog was inspired by the palette of colors that was lying in front of me. Think of a mood tester. Blues and green are usually calm. When you see a sleeping dog, he seems calm and doesn’t have a care in the world. Reds, yellows, and oranges are normally the colors for anger and such. My painting shows the dog can relax and sleep peacefully despite his ‘heated’ surroundings.”

Lydia Jackson, Waltrip HS, 2007 14

lation in the gallery. “I felt totally part of it,” he remembers, “it was as if my whole world opened up.” It wasn’t long before Ramirez took up the camera himself, and today his work can be found in the permanent collections at the University of North Texas, McNeese University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the MFAH. Ramirez draws upon his own baptism in the creative process in structuring the Multi-Visit Program, and his laid back attitude could be just the ticket to connect to young adults. He knows full well that high school kids can be a tough sell, are not shy about voicing their opinions, and can be easily alienated from art. Ramirez takes a sneaky approach, letting the art come to them first before getting in the way. He greets the students at the front door and then they have a considerably long trek to his office to drop off their backpacks. “It’s pretty much “a hello and follow me” beginning. They have already seen a lot of art by the time they get to my office,” he remarks. “Plus, they have seen been greeted at the door by the big silver guys, and nearly tripped over dead dude from the Pompeii exhibit.” The first visit is very much a “what’s in


the house” inventory. Getting the lay of the land, not forcing them to get it on the first visit, and having a good box lunch are all key to getting the students’ attention. It’s not usual for this to be their first visit to the museum outside of a school field trip in third grade. Ramirez takes a back away from the art approach letting a kind of causal more organic conversation develop. His presence is a constant; by the end of the last visit, he knows their names, and sometimes even what’s going on in school and with their friends. “I learn a lot at lunchtimes,” he quips. But he also knows when to lay low and the art do its own work. At two hours, the visit is leisurely. And with 3-5 visits per school there isn’t that usual have-to see-it all feeling. In fact, the vibe is relaxed when it comes to goal setting. Letting something develop seems a better idea when it comes to inciting teens into thinking of the museum as a destination. Ramirez experiments with looking at one exhibit several times, to a more roving approach. Ramirez brings in an artist at the first visit. He finds that helps connects the students to the human element. When he saw Wendy Wagner’s whimsical and provocative work he, knew she would be a match with his students. ”She’s an amazing with mark maker,” Ramirez says about the 2008 Hunting Prize winner. “It’s a whole other experience for them to ask questions to a working artist.” Wagner shapes the activity based on the exhibit. “George and I brainstorm what might work,” says Wagner. “I want them to build a relationship with art. I hope they leave knowing that art is larger than representational images, it could be that cool thing hanging from the ceiling too.” The multi-visit program is not of the cookie cutter variety. Ramirez prefers a more fluid approach. “I like to read the kids,” he says. “and see what’s working and go from there.” Some exhibits work better than others. “Best in Show worked well,” he says, “everyone can relate to a dog.” Part of Ramirez’s approach

RIGHT: Atascocita HS student, Fall 2007

“I found this exhibit very interesting because it was very different from anything I have ever seen before. I love that it was all about dogs. To me, this was by far the best exhibit of the year. I also very much enjoyed the activities that we did afterwards.”

Nicole Makrakis, Sophmore, Atascocita HS, 2006

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LEFT: Brittany Austin, Freshman, Atascocita HS, 2006 BOTTOM: Goerge Ramirez OPPOSITE: Rebekah Carriere, Freshman, Atascocita HS, 2006

is to be open and willing to listen to any and all reactions, from “you have to be kidding” to “that’s cool.” His job is not to get the kids to like art. “Sometimes they love the challenge of appreciating work their parents would hate,” he admits. “In the beginning it’s important to stay within the safety of opinions.” Victoria Ramirez, the W.T. and Louise J. Moran Education Director at the MFAH, oversees all the education programs and stands firmly behind the motto, “a museum for all people.” Yet, she agrees that in order

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for a motto to move into motion, the museum needs to constantly be thinking of new ways to welcome Houston’s citizens. A new initiative, “A museum for all families” is in the works. “I know we on the right track when I hear someone refer to the museum, as ‘our MFAH,’” says Victoria Ramirez. For some museums may always be a one time destination. For others, an entirely different experience awaits us each time we visit. When we view a permanent collection over and over we notice something new

each time. The Clifford Still room may be in the very same place at the Knox, but I have changed. Each time we visit we bring a new set of eyes and a keener perception. To build that idea that the museum is a place we can come and go from frequently and grow an ongoing and evolving relationship to art—that could very well be the future of a strong art appreciating culture. Ramirez addresses that concept in his understated approach. He seems to be saying to the students, don’t worry about seeing it all in one go around, you will be back. The Multi-Visit Program culminates in an exhibit, which consists of selected artwork created by the students during their visits. Programs are hard to evaluate and teenagers are not a exactly forthcoming age group. In the end, it’s up to the individual to shape their own relationship to a city’s cultural resources and take ownership on their own terms. Ramirez’s work is proof that are many paths to bring a museum on to one’s radar. The constant tweak of the welcome mat continues to be his highest priority. “When I have to ask less questions and the discussion becomes self-generating, I know they are engaged,” admits Ramirez. “When I see the kids coming back with their friends and parents on their own, well, that’s an excellent barometer that something is getting through to them.”


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Classical Gas

Musicians Become Masters at Texas Music Festival By John DeMers

In 1990, a young University of Houston violin student named Alan Austin was chosen to participate in the first-ever Texas Music Festival – the name alone potentially misleading, since the music involved no steel or electric guitars, no references to lost highways, women or beer, and no lyrics requiring that certain telltale twang. Today, as in 1990, the Texas Music Festival focuses its 100 or so carefully chosen participants on playing the classics of orchestral music. And when those students take a break from full orchestra, it’s only to polish their work with smaller chamber ensembles or perhaps even work to perfect their solos.

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any have gone on, over the years, to jobs with some of the finest orchestras in the United States and around the world. That young violin student, however, a member of the festival’s very first class, chose to stay close to home. “It was very exciting, to all of a sudden have an orchestra festival right here in Houston,” Austin says of 1990, though speaking now as the festival’s general director. “They brought in different conductors. Although it was housed at the University of Houston, it was like being transported someplace else to learn a lot of music in a very short space of time.” Just as the phrase “Texas music” might mislead some people, so might the extremely generic word “festival.” According to Austin, there is a festival involved, including this year nearly 30 public performances between June 2 and July 3. For the students, though, the month is probably less a festival than something combining a difficult class with a full-time job. They work, he stresses, taking on new piece after new piece to master, adjusting their playing to a series of new mentors, and building fresh friendships that may well follow them into professional careers. The Texas Music Festival was founded by Houston construction success story Immanuel Olshan and his wife Helen, who loved to spend their summers traveling to music festivals such as the ones held in Aspen and Tanglewood. As sometimes happens, though, the joy of such travels

faded behind the deepening conviction that Houston should have such a festival all its own. The Olshans’ generosity funding the original effort continues to this day, by way of their foundation. This is fortunate, since being selected to participate means all tuition and housing are taken care of. Once a student finds his or her way to Houston, the rest comes with the fellowship. “For a serious young musician, a summer program experience is a very important part of their training,” offers former participant Austin, who ought to know. “It’s so different from what they do during their school year, when they have to balance their music studies with a lot of other academic pursuits. In this compressed time period of only four to six weeks, they probably do enough and learn enough to equal a whole academic year.” In recent years, the fame of the Texas Music Festival has had what must be the desired effect – not only filling more seats for more of the public concerts but attracting applicants from more and more parts of the world. Some come from right here in Houston, naturally, considering the quality of music education being offered at U of H as well as over at Rice. But those local applicants must win a spot over young musicians from places amazingly far away. Last year’s roster included musicians from 17 different states – and 18 countries. “We’ve gone from being a sort of local competition to being an international one,” Austin says. “Our students come

from all the major conservatories in this country, or they have a connection with a particular teacher overseas.” In the course of the month-long program, students will practice and perform under the guidance of faculty from the Moores School of Music and from the Houston Symphony, along with guests artists conducting master classes. Local performances are divided between the Moores Opera House and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion in the Woodlands, with outreach shows at Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M. In addition, the first-place winner of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition each summer is invited to perform with the Akademisches Orchester in Leipzig, Germany. The Texas Music Festival offers a number of surprises on its 2008 schedule, starting with the number of smaller, more specific music programs swirling around the big event. These include short programs devoted to flute, jazz, strings and classical guitar. There’s even a component built around judging and debuting work by new composers, focused over the past few years on classical composers working in Texas. This summer’s festival features the premiere of a work by San Antonio composer David Heuser, with a 2009 co-commission planned with the Atlanta Symphony for local composer Christopher Theofanidis. “It very easy for classical music to become a museum,” says Austin. “The teaching of tradition is very important. But it’s also important for our students to understand that music is still alive and changing and growing.”

Photos by Tom Shea Texas Music Festival, June 2-July 3, www.class.uh.edu/music/texasmusicfestival

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Reinvigorated City by the Sea Embraces the Arts by John DeMers

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omething over a century ago, everything that was old about Galveston was washed away and a new Galveston was allowed and/or forced to emerge. Change a tad more gradual and graceful than the Great Storm of 1900 is happening on the island right now, with cruise liners docking, conventions at two competing convention centers and old-fashioned beachgoers filling the shopping streets, second homeowners outnumbering full-time residents, live theater competing for attention with music and dance, and several new stretches of galleries offering more than sea shells and sand dollars. Happily, the best and the brightest among those pressing for big change are a good deal more respectful of the past and its bankable charms than the Great Storm was. Of course, as it has been for decades, Galveston is still a tale of three names: Mitchell, Moody and, most recently, Fertitta. The spirit of George Mitchell is alive and well in all the main tourist areas surrounding the Strand, the blocks-long shopping district now getting sushi joints, chic wine bars and coffee shops to augment its traditional T-shirt shops. Most of Mitchell’s 17 historic buildings are in this district, parlaying loving renovations a decade or two ago into the heart of what brings tourists to Galveston. And as at the shopping mall, the Strand provides a kind of anchor store to the innovative galleries and risk-taking little performance spaces that fill the streets running off of it. Though not as evident (except for their namesake bank) around the Strand, the Moodys operate an entertainment megaplex on the island’s interior, including Moody Gardens with its IMAX theater and numerous other family attractions, plus a hotel and convention center that now overlooks not only the Gulf of Mexico in the distance but the new all-year, indoor-outdoor Schiltterbahn water park closer in. And when you’re hungry or thirsty in Galveston, it’s impossible to escape Tilman Fertitta and his Landry’s-

TOP and ABOVE: Interior of the Grand 1894 Opera House OPPOSITE TOP: from Julia Barello’s installation Profusion + Multiplicity OPPOSITE BOTTOM: Vintage postcard courtesy of Galveston Convention and Visitors Bureau

inspired gaggle of restaurants, including a few Galveston places he simply took over because he liked them. And oh yes, because he could. With strong family roots in Galveston and business ties in Houston, Fertitta has emerged as the New Moody on the Block – with his own San Luis Resort fielding its own upscale steakhouse, its own swimming pool with sushi bar and its own convention center right along the Seawall. Three huge names - and a whole lot of not-so-huge ones – 21


“We are very keen on Galveston, and its being its own self. What we do is bring the best quality work we can to the island. We believe in living with art, that everybody is better living with art.” are turning a Texas seaside cliche smelling of suntan oil and fried seafood into an arts destination attracting not only sunbirds from the shadowy north but from Houston. The fact that arts lovers from Houston trundle down I-45 to see shows and shop for art is perhaps the most unexpected change of all. “Eighty percent of our audience drives in,” says executive director Maureen Patton of the Grand 1894 Opera House, which presents a season of Broadway touring companies, musical headliners like Itzhak Perlman and a full half of the world premieres in the hilarious “Tuna” series. “When we started this, we shared the street with topless bars, prostitutes and winos – really good neighbors! The Grand become a downtown revitalization key. As we got busier here, we closed a lot of businesses that weren’t quite comfortable when there was a lot of positive energy on the street.” Alexandra Irvine, who serves as executive director of the Galveston Arts Center, has faced many of the same challenges as the Grand, and reached many of the same conclusions about the bright future the island is facing. Working closely with individual galleries like DesignWorks, the Buchanan Gallery and photographer Robert Mihovil, the GAC not only mounts creative exhibitions of its own but organizes the popular ArtWalks every two months or so, driving up to 1,200 art lovers with credit cards through the arts district for openings on a single night. 22

“We coordinate all the galleries and what we like to call ‘other walls’ – restaurants and retail spaces,” Irvine says of ArtWalk. “We move pretty fast. We move at a gallery pace. This is a tourist destination, so people are moving pretty fast here. It’s just a matter of getting the word out. It becomes a community event. In our own spaces, you’re going to see contemporary art from Texas. And you’re never going to see the same thing twice.” Typically in Galveston, the leaders in this ongoing arts mission – the Grand for performing arts and the GAC for visual – are both located in buildings with serious history. Now certified by the Legislature as the Opera House of the State of Texas, the Grand is another of those glittering blasts from the past. It was built for live performances at the end of the 19th century, when the city was still bustling with millionaires and a major international port, thus explaining acoustics far superior to many currently renovated TOP: Installation view of Julia Barello’s Profusion + Multiplicity ABOVE RIGHT: Alexandra Irvine, Executive Director at the Galveston Arts Center


ABOVE: Buchanan Gallery’s sharp corner at 220 25th ABOVE RIGHT: Strand Theatre’s brick-laden building at 2317 Mechanic St BELOW: DesignWorks’ entry on 2119A Post Office St

theaters originally designed for movies. Stars on this stage in the distant past included Anna Pavlova, Sarah Bernhardt and John Philip Sousa, leading later through the Marx Brothers, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and opera legend Dorothy Kirsten. Still, living the common story in city after city, the Grand had run its course by the 1970s. Both the theater itself and the downtown it anchored had ceased to be important to Galveston or to its larger world. It took a civic effort at least the equal of the one that built it originally to spend no less than 13 years rescuing the building from abuse and decay. Today, the Grand lives up to its name: an entertainment palace from the past that does a terrific job of delighting audiences here and now. For its part, the GAC’s home in the former First National Bank Building was built even earlier in Galveston’s history – 1874. In those days, a bank was definitely the place to be, as riches rolled into Galveston from across the country and around the world. Much of that dizzying affluence disappeared one day in September of 1900, when the Great Storm came ashore with none of the warnings that accompany hurricanes today. An original run as an arts place on the Strand was begun by the Junior League 40 years ago, buying the building and using it to house arts-centered events like ceramics instruction and kids dance classes. What started in the space in 1967 became the separate non-profit Galveston Arts Center in 1986. Under chief curator Clint Willour, the GAC continually surveys the entire state (with some forays into neighboring states) for the best in contemporary art to surprise and challenge its 50,000-plus anneal visitors. A major event this year is Helen Altman: Flora/Fauna and Other Concerns, a 10-year survey of sculpture, works on paper and quilts by the artist from Fort Worth. Many other programs break down the wall by taking art and artists to seven different offsite locations, concentrating on underserved populations. And just as both these community leaders enjoy historic homes (when they’re not busy with expensive structural repairs, as 23


the GAC is right now), they both help inspire smaller players that do things considered a bit riskier. The Strand Theatre, operated by a non-profit organization, is (with just under 200 seats, compared to the Grand’s 1100) a far more intimate affair. Not born as a theater at all, the space on Ship Mechanic’s Row was purchased through a grant from the Moody family and restored with major assistance from George and Cynthia Mitchell. Today, the Strand plays host to a community theater producing several shows each year. There are other theater options. A group called East End Theatre Company (ETC) regularly amazes and puzzles local audiences with the art form’s cutting edge. And there’s even a group that has built up a following producing summertime musicals outdoors. To the delight of some but (this being the theater) not all, that group has moved its productions into the convention center at Moody Gardens. In the spirit of the extra-tough carpet, these shows are now known by local wits as “indoor-outdoor musicals.” For more than 15 years, Buchanan Gallery has led the commercial side of what the GAC does on a nonprofit basis – and most would agree that to be a viable arts destination, Galveston needs both. Kathy Buchanan has seen a significant shift in the attitude of Houstonians in particular, who long wondered aloud why they should drive “all the way to Galveston” to see an artist’s work. She has enjoyed so much success attracting art lovers from Houston, as well as those among the owners of second homes and even the occasional cruise passenger, that she has left her original location behind for a large corner space just off the Strand. “I would love to see a wonderful, thriving arts community here, with more galleries and more studios than you could ever imagine,” Buchanan says. “I’m like a kid in a candy store.” Newer players in the gallery scene are led by Stephen and Elizabeth Lanier, who ironically were inspired to open DesignWorks on the site of the Great Storm after being driven from New Orleans by the threat of Hurricane Ivan. Originally from Delaware and only tentatively established in the Crescent City, the couple evacuated to 24

Galveston and were impressed by what they saw here, long before a later storm named Katrina would have made their efforts in New Orleans untenable. “It’s still a real place,” says Stephen Lanier. “Think of Charleston, Savannah, La Jolla or Annapolis – each a coastal community you visit not just because there’s something going on but because it is.” Elisabeth adds: “We are very keen on Galveston, and its being its own self. What we do is bring the best quality work we can to the island. We believe in living with art, that everybody is better living with art.” In yet another history building – the 1896 Hutchings-Sealy, one of the Mitchell family’s 17 – photographer Robert Mihovil has attracted admirers to his surprisingly artistic photographs of Galveston scenes. As a regular image-taker for regional and national magazines, Mihovil has no trouble dishing up first-rate color photos. But he uses the best of these, some turned into virtual paintings by the giclée process, to enliven the walls of homes going up from Galveston’s new West End to Houston to New York to Europe. At some point, he believes, even the representation of ships, lighthouses and weathered old docks can become true art. “If you can take something that’s really complex and make it really simple, I’d rather do that all day,” says Mihovil, who opens by appointment other than on those very busy ArtWalk evenings. “There’s a lot of art out there that’s a little too wild for me. I like to take things that are older and photograph them without their dated artifacts. That way, they could have been 110 years ago – or yesterday.” Or, this being the new arts destination known as Galveston – tomorrow.


ABOVE: Foyer of Robert Mihovil’s gallery OPPOSITE LEFT: Robert Mihovil at his gallery OPPOSITE RIGHT: Vintage postcard courtesy of Galveston Convention and Visitors Bureau

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“We Are Who We Are”: Queer Identity and Art by Tria Wood 26


OPPOSITE: Jason Villegas, Cosmic Nude #1, 2008 LEFT: Brian Neal Sensabaugh. DEAR Camp, 2008 BELOW: Brian Neal Sensabaugh. Installation details from DEAR Camp, 2008

The question of “queer” art pivots on axes significant to us all—public and private, person and performance. Because we tend to conflate who we are with who we love and desire, issues of sexuality and sexual identity make fertile areas for artistic exploration. Gay and lesbian artists, in particular, often find that expressing themselves means confronting or exposing their sexual selves as well. Through their work, viewers may feel challenged; however, because our dominant culture is so immersed in heterosexual structures, the average viewer is probably unaccustomed to thinking about heterosexual art in terms of its own undertones of power, desire and identity. Through the lens of queer theory, we may come to better understand the impetus that operates under the surface of almost anyone’s artwork. French theorist Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality is considered the groundbreaking work in queer theory. Foucault challenges the notion of “sexuality” as a natural and persistent state of being, finding that contemporary ideas of hetero- and homosexuality (not to mention bisexuality) are categories that did not always exist. Rather, as Western religious and social practices worked to regulate sex acts, they defined what was “acceptable” in narrow terms such that only those acts seen as encouraging procreation were presumed to be “natural” and free from “perversion.” Through this process, sexual activity became a way of defining a person as a whole, rather than a way of describing something a person might do. By the 19th Century, homosexuality was no longer classified as a particular set of acts with a particular gender of partner, but instead emerged as an overall state of being. Today, artists—like the rest of us—are still wrestling with the Gordian knot that binds gender, sexuality, and identity. Three Houston-linked queer artists, Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Lovie Olivia and Jason Villegas each address these issues from perspectives that are personal, global, and idiosyncratic. Brian Neal Sensabaugh, an Arkansas native, now lives and works in Houston. Last summer’s installation at Lawndale Art Center, DEAR Camp, stems from his experiences of growing up “different” in the culture of hypermasculinity that surrounds deer hunting. The installation began, he says, as an attempt to document his boyhood experiences in rural Arkansas, since urban Texas friends often responded to his childhood memories with disbelief. “They’d say, ‘There’s no way these things could happen,’” Sensabaugh laughs, so he set out with a mission: “How would I translate my experience of deer camp for them?” All the objects in the installation came from his family’s actual campsite in rural Arkansas, from the heavily inscribed wooden bar 27


The artist, whose extremely supportive mother moved with him to Dallas when he was in eighth grade in order to provide him with a place where he could more comfortably be himself, still has not revealed his sexuality to his family members that remain in Arkansas. “It’s possible that they’ll know,” he concedes, as his artwork and the documentary progress, and notes that the process of making the documentary helped him become more comfortable with them finding out. As he worked with filmmaker Lee Gamel to ensure that his family was portrayed in an accurate, but never mocking, way, Sensabaugh realized that they were perfectly happy with themselves, and through this he found a sense of acceptance for them as they are—an acceptance that he hopes they will be able to extend to him as well. Houston artist Lovie Olivia’s current installation at Project Row Houses, Rotating the Tire, shows her

constructed by his nephew to the logs in the fire pit. Bathed in pink and white, the camp is reinvented through Sensabaugh’s own vision, tempering the presence of guns, death, and “pussy” jokes (as voiced through his nephew’s texts on the bar) with pastels, ruffles, and statues of does protecting their fawns. Sensabaugh acknowledges the stereotypically effeminate nature of the filter through which he envisions the place, but doesn’t see this as problematic of the work or of himself. The problem, rather, is with those who put notions of gender and sexuality into rigid categories that don’t allow for someone like himself. He laughs that people who see his work often assume that he’s a woman because they hold preconceived notions about a feminine aesthetic that they see operating in his work—a notion that he’s more than happy to refute by being just who he is. The documentary DEAR Camp, which premieres at Lawndale Art Center this June, follows Sensabaugh as he visits his Arkansas family during the first weekend of deer season, and as he creates the installation. 28

ABOVE: Jason Villegas, Cosmic Prayer Ritual, 2008 RIGHT: Jason Villegas, Cosmic Beast Transformation Sequence #1, 2008 OPPOSITE: Lovie Olivia. Rotating the Tire, 2008


artistic approach to issues of sexual identity as an integrated part of her overall personality—rather than singling out her sexuality, she contextualizes it within issues of change, renewal, and connection. In her past work, she says, she had focused more explicitly on aspects of lesbian sexuality, but after some time, she felt it was “too overt.” She decided instead to connect with and present more than just this one aspect of herself, she says, and retreated somewhat from her artwork as she defined a more integrated approach. Now emerging with a broader sense of self and work, Olivia’s work is replete with undercurrents of female sexuality and reproductive cycles. Her current installation began as an exploration of the symbolism of the circle, which “kept leading to new ideas and kept growing,” she says. As she worked, she “wanted to contain ideas into circles—wanted the ideas to connect molecularly.” As one might expect, the idea of rebirth injected itself into this exploration,

and soon “the feminine entity made itself present” as a focus of the installation. For Olivia, however, the female body is personal, but not necessarily a sexualized figure. The installation came to reflect the beginnings of maternal urges and an exploration of fertility, allowing her to develop a relationship with these notions as she worked. “I just knew what I wanted the space to feel like,” she says, describing the womblike darkness of the walls, which recede into a meditative space inspired by the Rothko Chapel. The installation, when viewed clockwise, culminates in a large image of the Yoruba goddess Oshun, who represents change and renewal. Olivia became fascinated by Oshun in the process of creating this installation, finding in her an embodiment of notions of the cycles of nature and Olivia’s own “urge to nurture people globally.” Moving from an individual to a global focus, Olivia found new perspectives on her work, which reflects sexuality in contexts of the Earth’s 29


cyclical nature. Jason Villegas is a Houston native now living and working in New York City. His wildly imaginative work is often challenging in its overt depictions of sexuality, brutality, and his own particular sense of personal symbolism. Sexuality, he says, has “always been there” in his work, but in the past was “masked in symbolism or kept at a minimum without actual figurative expression, but these days it’s all out there literally dangling. I’ve always allowed my own sexual interests to merge with some of my imagery, but lately it seems to be overshadowing some of my previous concerns and concepts.” His current work, including the Cosmic Sluts series, presents male odalisques “half reclining nude and half amorphous blob floating in space eating and shitting all that exists.” These were preceded by a fascination with “bear” nudes painted at first for his own amusement—images of large, hairy men obtained from amateur photos found on the internet— which he calls “a fun and slightly pathetic pastime.” He kept these largely under wraps for some time, however, because he did not want to be pigeonholed as a homoerotic artist (a la Tom of Finland). Finally, the animal/human theme found itself connecting with these bear images in his work until the chimeras that now face us emerged. Despite his frank address of homosexual desire, Villegas eschews the notion of purposefully taking on sexuality as an issue in his work because “it has never really been an issue for me. I’ve always thought to live my life how I wanted…. My sex-

30

uality comes out in my work because I am a sexual person and will be what it is as I am what I am.” Rather than making a statement about queer identity, he says, “I create images and objects that stem from my worldly interests. Cute things, scary things, gross things, and sexy things. I mutate and morph them into my own cast of characters and motifs…. These things are indirect as I am most interested in just doing what I want and creating what I want and letting people create the purpose.” The documentary DEAR Camp premieres at Lawndale Art Center on June 20th, 8pm.

Lovie Olivia’s installation Rotating the Tire is currently on view at Project Row Houses and will appear in a group show entitled Heroes/ Alter Egos at Space 125 Gallery opening August 21st. Jason Villegas’s Cosmic Slut was on view in Chicago at Gescheidle Gallery through May 31st and as part of Phantom Sitings: Art After the Chicano Movement, a group exhibition at LACMA through September 1st.

BELOW: Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Ball and Chain, 2007 OPPOSITE: Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Not Straight, 2007


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Parente challenges us, as local residents, to acknowledge the speed of our lives and to not just accept but to evaluate our emotions regarding time and progress.

T

he Italian-born, Houstondwelling artist Nicola Parente has spent the years between 2004 and 2007 interpreting and portraying urban decay in our nation—more specifically, in and around the areas of the four “wards” of downtown Houston. If he sounds morose and sullen to you, the irony is that his is demeanor is as opposite as one could imagine. After living in both America and Europe

throughout his formative years, Parente’s geographic and cultural savvy along with his liberal arts education at Houston’s premier University of St. Thomas served him well. His copious interpersonal skills leave no aspect of his particular artistic vision obscure. He is verbose, exuberant, and capable when explaining his art. Even when commenting, through his work, on the interconnectedness of all mankind or the slow exhale and death rattle of the cities we inhabit

and exploit, there is a joy about Parente - the kind of joy that can only be extinguished when an artist is not allowed to ply his craft. For the past three years or so, Parente has concentrated on a series entitled, The Edge Of Urban Time. Wide panels made exactly to his specifications arrive at his warehouse space near the Washington Corridor. The material mimics plastic but is actually a synthetic with a similarly glossy texture—this is what helps

Nicola Parente: Journey by Sarah Gajkowski-Hill 32


give his paintings a photographic appearance. He needs a great deal of space to work on these horizontally elongated, linear paintings. With the feel of the documentation’s camera poised and pointed from a moving train or car, these paintings appear to always be in motion. The fact they are captured on the canvas is only by virtue of the fact that Parente’s mind creates a still frame for the urban decay he envisions in fast-forward intensity before he translates it to

OPPOSITE: Nicola Parente, Moving Forward, 2008 BELOW: Nicola Parente, Moving Sprawl, 2008 PAGE 28: Nicola Parente, Peripheral Movement, 2008 PAGE 29: Nicola Parente, Urban Movement, 2008

the canvas. Primarily capturing the dirty and cloudy colors of Houston’s “wards,” the many shades of gray, ominous purples and olive tones hint at a dreariness and population instantly recognized as urban. As though you had glanced casually out the window of a quickly moving vehicle, the shapes and forms of a distinctly inner-city landscape appear, then change. Punctuated by frames, the picture repeats itself like an antiquated filmstrip snapping, and as you walk along the painting the individual images grow less distinguishable. Parente uses his tools to slowly drag acrylic color paint and mixed media at times, across the panels. This is the way he achieves the desired effects of both the blurriness and the elongated “still frame” sections of each work. Knives, trowels, brushes, utensils of all kinds are littered around the perimeter of the unfinished works in his studio. The paints are meticulously catalogued so that colors can be duplicated or slightly altered and the swatches, tiny circles of organic palettes, are scattered nearby. Some images are reoccurring in this series—what appear to be skylines, industrial parks, chain link fences and factory smokestacks. But the perceptive is that they are fleeting. This time element is both literal and metaphorical. The city of Houston is notorious for its obscene amount of teardown and the incredible amount of money that allows developers to throw up new complexes in a few weeks time—with the bottom line always being financial. Houston has so much of the energy and has the resources to build sustainable structures in our city. On the other hand, we also boast the cheapest architecture projects in the nation. Without zoning laws, old neighborhoods skyrocket in property value even as the neighboring historic structures fall into disrepair. Other than weather, time is one of architecture’s worst enemies. Metaphorically, everything moves quickly in an urban setting—everything speeds up. And it goes without saying that everything disintegrates and decays at this higher rate, too. 33


Being written up in New York Arts Magazine (July/August 2007) and having won the cover design contest at 002 Magazine in December 2007, Parente has been getting a fair share of media attention recently. There are many more issues Nicola Parente’s work purports to comment on—in the past he has thoroughly enjoyed studying and working out ways to help himself understand the interconnectedness of the universe and the people who inhabit it. A year of many honors for Parente, he also provided the background scenery and artistic direction for a highly intense performance pieced entitled, E_Merging_II. by the Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre. The current show at the Gremillion Gallery, which has represented him for years, is entitled, Journey and is another comment on our city’s urban landscape. In this slightly more optimistic series, the colors are a bit brighter and the chain link fencing is absent. The despair and dreariness of the constantly changing landscape shows promise instead of the emptiness of disrepair and

Journey runs July 11th through August 25th, 2501 Sunset Blvd, 713.522.2701, gremillion.com To find out more about Nicola, visit his website at nparente.com 34

dilapidation. The repetition represents sustainability and the color palette he uses is full of a sense of rebirth and vigor. Especially small splashes of red, replace the dark ashes and dirty purples of The Edge of Urban Time. This evolving nature of Parente’s work is due in part to the small strides he sees our city making towards eco-friendliness. By preserving “green” spaces and even adding green features such as the new “Discovery Green Houston Park” outside the George R. Brown, the effects of time on our city might actually improve its aesthetic. As far as artist’s go, Parente is one of the most willing to look for the bright upside to every problem. After all is said is done, the name of the current show has an exciting aspect. Aren’t all journeys expected to be a bit frightening? And, isn’t every journey a learning experience in some sense? Parente challenges us, as local residents, to acknowledge the speed of our lives and to not just accept but to evaluate our emotions regarding time and progress.


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performance review

Houston Grand Opera Billy Budd Photo by Felix Sanchez

Anthony Freud is a man with a mission. Not only does he intend to drag opera kicking and screaming into the 21st century – he even wants to close the art form’s historical gap between the upper crust that funded it and the millions he feels it should speak to about important things. No, leading profound musical and social change isn’t enough for Freud, or for his HGO. He wants to rescue the reputation of a brilliant 20th century composer who wrote not in Italian or French or German but in what might be the least expected opera language of all. Our own. To hear Freud speak in what Mary Poppins would call his “practically perfect” British accent, you might think his championing of Benjamin Britten’s operas more than a little partisan. Yet after years of running the Welsh National Opera, Freud clearly believes the guy created works on a par with Puccini or Verdi of Italy, Gounod or Massenet of France, or even Wagner of Germany. And yet it’s their works being programmed by opera companies, especially in this country, and not so often Britten’s. With the recent impressive run of HGO’s Billy Budd (based on Herman Melville’s way-shorter-than-Moby Dick novel of 40

the sea), Freud took a major step toward launching a “cycle” of Britten’s operas he expects to run in Houston for several years. The word “cycle” might be scary to some, evoking visions of Wagner and his interminable Ring; yet in Britten’s case, the operas aren’t really a part of any long, imbedded, entangled series like, say, Star Wars. In this case, HGO will simply program one Britten work per season, moving from his take on Melville to his spin on Shakespeare next year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Part of Freud’s goal here (shared by HGO music director Patrick Summers, who conducted Billy Budd with attention to the many exquisite details), was to liberate our expectations from opera that moves from hit song to hit song, toward something more integrated, almost symphonic. Indeed, once the fi nal curtain had fallen, memories of Britten’s music were mostly non-vocal – an intriguing thing to say about an opera. Remembering that Britten composed the work at the beginning of the 1950s, you can’t listen without realizing that rulebreakers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg had come before. Unexpected and remarkable tonalities abounded, some capturing the natural world of the sailor at sea but most

evoking the dark internal lives of good vs. evil, guilt vs. forgiveness, and most centrally, what amounts to salvation by a Christfi gure who goes to his death, a rope from a yardarm subbing for that cross on Calvary. Another key to making Billy Budd a dramatic success here was the “simple” set, a kind of large deck that could rotate, rise and turn like a ship upon the waves but also become different exterior and interior venues depending on a few steps or ramps arrayed around it. Cue the sea mist – a symbol for the moral confusion that drives the story – and you have not only a nautical set but (as with that famous barricade in the musical Les Miserables a powerful metaphor for the unfeeling hand of fate. Even if Britten’s music favored the surprising orchestral moment over the full-fl edged aria, the singer-actors chosen for the HGO production were exemplary – led by Daniel Belcher in the long blond locks of the title role, Andrew Kennedy as tortured Capt. Vere (a complex character created by Britten for his partner, tenor Peter Pears) and Phillip Ens as the Javert-like evil master of arms John Claggart. – John DeMers


performance review

Nova Arts Project Love Loves a Pornographer

photos by Jeff Goode

The folks at Nova Arts Project are determined to keep their audiences delightfully off center. Such is the case with their newest offering, Jeff Goode’s Love Loves A Pornographer, a play that slides in between farce, comedy, and Victorian parlor drama with a giddy ease. Imagine Oscar Wilde on steroids, George Bernard Shaw with less of a socialist chip on his shoulder, or how about Harold Pinter with less doom? We never quite know if or when Goode is playing it straight, and therein lies the fun and sassy punch. Love gets off to a twisted start: the Lady Lillian and Lord Cyril Loveworthy have invited their neighbors, the Rev. Miles and Millicent Monger, over for some tea. Lord Loveworthy is a novelist and a pornographer. Miles Monger is a self- important

literary critic from The Times of London, who made Lord Loveworthy’s career with his break-out fi rst novel but has since not said a decent word. Turns out there’s been some naughty stuff going on between the critic and Lady Loveworthy, every detail of which she has penned in her dairy – and every detail of which has ended up in Lord Cyril’s best-sellling lewd books. The plot thickens when daughter Emily arrives with her betrothed Earl, whom the Loveworthys mistakenly think was a real earl. He’s a real Earl all right, complete with a dog-skin cap and a chain of very successful pornography shops. The Nova Arts cast ate Goode’s word fest alive, chomping down on every syllable with zany glee. Timothy Evers gave a star turn as the groveling, tick-infested, fl ustered,

squirmy, smarmy, back of jitters, pompous, blowhard of a critic. He was always guiltily clutching and twisting his hands as if he has just slaughtered the chamber maid in the kitchen. Sean Patrick Judge lent an upper-crust nobility to the porn profession in his crisp performance of Lord Cyril. His rambling verbosity felt nearly natural. Jenni Rebecca Stephenson imbued the Lady Lillian with a demonic intensity. Melissa N. Davis was all innocence and female frailty as the critic’s wife, who spends most of her time reading Lord Loveworthy’s illicit books. The not-exactly-an-earl Earl was brought to crude life by Bobby Haworth. As his sweetheart, Katrina Ellsworth was. all bouncy girlishness. Fennimore, the butler, was dutifully performed by Wayne Barnhill. Rob Kimbro’s smart direction kept the drama on a slippery slope, never quite letting the audience settle in a known place. The action played close to the words, which rip at lightening speeds, at times feeling like a Victorian poetry slam. Brian White’s set design was full of clever visual tricks, such as a leopard print rug, a stack of Seventeen magazines in the corner, and a television screen disguised as a painting. Kiza Moore’s costumes played hopscotch through the periods, adding to that unsettling feeling that something was not quite right in this parlor. Sarah Lazorwitz’s lighting design nicely transformed the ordinary Barnevelder space into something extraordinary. – Nancy Wozny 41


performance review

Stages Repertory Theatre Rounding Third

Justin Doran as Michael and Josh Morrison as Don; Photo by Bruce Bennett

Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third covers familiar ground for Texans – sports - whether we care about winning or just having a good time. For Michael (played at Stages by Justin Doran), a holdout of the self-esteem-gone-too-far-generation, Little League should be a positive experience, even if his adopted son has little in the way of natural talent. It’s all about fun and play and just having a rewarding ego-boosting experience. For Don (Josh Morrison), a considerably more old-school chap, the age and relative unimportance of little league at age 42

11 bear little importance. It’s about winning at any cost. Michael is a white collar, college educated, mocha latte drinking nerd. Don is a blue collar beer-drinking guy whose whole life is “the game.” When Michael questions if it really matters what a kid does in any particular game, Don interrupts him to tell a long winded story about how his whole life was altered by a bad move from a second baseman. He still holds a grudge. It’s stereotype heaven here at Dresser’s world. Just as you wonder how in the world the battle of two different approaches to Little League can make a substantive play,

the plot thankfully thickens. Turns out, things aren’t so perfect for Michael; his wife just died, he got demoted at work, and he suffers from a debilitating nervous tick that results in a hilarious little dance. Don’s wife is sneaking off with the former co-coach, and soon he fi nds himself living in his van. To make matters worse, Don’s son, the ringer, lands a big part in Brigadoon (the kiss of death for sports kids) and leaves the team. Neither is in a particularly good spot. Suddenly, Little League becomes a makeshift refuge for both of these misfi t dads. Both have their own private transformations. Michael, in a heartbreaking monologue, asks God to cough up a little luck for a change. As the play progresses, he has a bit of a turn around even to the point of letting Don smash his cell phone to smithereens. Don softens his killer approach and admits his kid was the best in Brigadoon. Dresser’s play is less about sports than about an awkward juxtaposition between two men from different world views crashing head on into each other in the container of a baseball game. Dresser’s witty banter and strict attention to character drive the drama. At Stages, strong performances by Doran and Morrison made the piece sail. Doran imbued Michael with a gangling awkwardness that was both poignant and pathetic. You almost wanted to root for him, but you also wanted him to stop being such a ninny. He seemed ill at ease with the world in general, never mind his own body. Morrison had the good ol’ boy act down to a science, from the swagger to the beer gulping. Director Kenn McLaughlin kept the pace snappy, letting the verbal battering reach a high pitch during the crucial scenes. Liz Freese’s scenic design and Kevin Holden’s lighting design captured that all-American and near-saccharine world of Little League while Michael Mullins deft sound design added punch. In the end, questions about competition and the true meaning of sports took a backseat to a deeper truth of an imperfect and unlikely relationship between two endearing but troubled men. The lights lowered while Carly Simon’s haunting rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame sweetly bellowed in the background. It was a soulful closure to a delightfully rambunctious play. – Nancy Wozny

713.228.6737 houstongrandopera.org


performance review

Ars Lyrica Duelling Divas Arts Lyrica’s last concert of the 2007-08 season paired a set of vocal and musical duels with Bach’s Brandenburg Concert No. 2 in the Hobby Center’s stylish Zilkha Hall. Promoted as a Baroque version of TV’s American Idol, the concert meshed sparkling music with lush vocals. American Idol, however, it was not. For the fi rst piece of the evening, Artistic director Matthew Dirst led his spirited ensemble through concerto, allowing four soloists on Baroque trumpet, recorder, Baroque oboe and Baroque violin to shine in this lively, light rendition of the Bach favorite. This “instrumental contest,” as it was called in the program, allowed the players to share, trade and vamp on pieces of the music. Handel’s Il duello amaroso is a classic battle of the sexes. The shepherd Daliso (countertenor Gerrod Pagenkoph) longs for his beloved Amaryllis (soprano Melissa Givens). Together they fi ght, whine and rant over her virtue. He thinks it belongs to him, she tells him it’s hers alone to give. The pair’s striking voices and facial hijinks ring across lush phrasing and happily camped

acting. Acting and singing were kicked up a notch in the program’s second half, Bach’s Dispute between Phoebus and Pan. Pan challenges Phoebus to a singing contest, sure that his more simple and fun song will win out over Phoebus’s more sophisticated aria. It doesn’t. Baritone Timothy Jones lit up the stage as Pan, his voice reaching and rumbling. As Phoebus, baritone Brian Shircliffe was

elegant and assured as befi ts his character. Sharing the stage with them were two tenors, each of whom acted as a sort of wingman for the dueling baritones. Randolph Lacey ably assisted Jones, sharing his effervescent acting and insistence on the likeability of their songs. Zachary Wilder likewise was all lyric singing and elegant staging in his defense of Phoebus’ more high-minded music. Behind all, Dirst’s ensemble offered a lovely styling on the cantata. Unlike American Idol, the audience did not get to vote for its favorite and have the vote actually count. But they were encouraged to applaud throughout the singing duel between Phoebus and Pan – and they did so with enthusiasm, catcalling and cheering on the singers. In fact, the link to American Idol was tenuous at best. It was also unnecessary. These two battles of singers and wit stand easily on their own across the centuries since their fi rst performances. Exploring (or revisiting) them through Ars Lyrica’s interpretation provides a great window on an era. And Ars Lyrica’s focus not merely on singing and playing, but also on acting and showing that classical music is fun is a worthy endeavor, indeed. – Holly Beretto

photos by Jim Caldwell

43


visual art review

Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston The Old, Weird America

America is habitually referred to as the tantrum-throwing toddler of the world scene. Of course our country is much younger than most, but does that lend any less of a rich, folkloric quality to our identity? Art will necessarily attempt to rebuke the notion that just because we are young we aren’t interesting—and strange. The curator of The Old, Weird America exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Toby Kamps, brilliantly spans America’s past from the Salem witch trials to the moon landing to the founding of Jamestown, and through the AIDS epidemic. The name of the show is borrowed from music and culture critic Greil Marcus’s book of the same title, which explores the infl uence of folk music on the albums of Bob Dylan and The Band. Artist Sam Durant re-creates life-size tableaus of the founding of Jamestown with wax sculptures of Pilgrims and Native Americans. Based on a Plymouth museum’s exhibit no longer in existence, one scene straightforwardly recreates the simplistic Thanksgiving narrative and the other imple44

Through July 20, 5216 Montrose, 713.284.8250, camh.org

ments a revisionist history’s take on events. While each scene represents dichotomous re-telling of the white man’s fi rst interaction with the Native Americans, the child-like panorama is arresting. Perhaps the most controversial piece in the show is by Kara Walker, 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture. This black and white fi fteenminute fi lm uses the Balinese technique of paper cut dolls. Spectral forms interact in puppet fashion while “talkie” movie subtitles fl ash across the screen. Walker adds a haunting soundtrack of spirituals as the intentionally convoluted language and stereotypes of the slave-era South become progressively more disturbing and offensive. Marginalized by African-Americans of an older generation, Walker’s hyperbole and intrepid depiction of racism has earned her much recognition. The wealth of our young nation is not lost on the artist’s consciousness. A frightening exhibit relates the guilt and subsequent madness of one descendant of


visual art review

a captain of industry, so to speak. The fi lm, Winchester, is a digital fi lm by the artist, Jeremy Blake. Intrigued by the story of Sarah Winchester, the heir to the Winchester rifl e fortune, he visited the architectural marvel in San Jose which she began construction on after the death of her family. Having consulted a medium in 1884 who told her that she must build a home for the thousands of souls killed by her family’s rifl es, she embarked on an architectural journey in which she constantly, twenty-four hours a day and for thirty-eight years straight, kept a team of carpenters building a Victorian house for the dead with staircases that led nowhere, empty towers and fake chimneys. Blake does not wish to be considered a documentarian. He instead interprets the story of Sarah Winchester by presenting photographs of the behemoth of a mansion superimposed with the images of ghostly cowboy fi gures

and original “digital paintings.” Waxing in and out of focus like Rorschach inkblots in acidbright colors, a siren-like soundtrack lends itself to the disequilibrium one feels upon entering the dark, square theater. An irreverent and hilarious look at the Founding Fathers, war-related sculpture and paintings, even a fake taxidermy sculpture of a fairy all lend a certain individual voice to the mythology of our American heritage. The CAMH show intentionally highlights some of the oddest elements of our collective past and the result converges on violence, humor, and a singularly American strain of insanity. -Sarah Gajkowski-Hill

Clockwise from opposite: Sam Durant, Pilgrims and Indians, Planting and Reaping, Learning and Teaching, 2006 Cynthia Norton (a.k.a. Ninny), Dancing Squared, 2004 Kara Walker, 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker, 2005 Jeremy Blake, still from Winchester, 2002 Margaret Kilgallen, Main Drag, 2001

45


visual art review

Blaffer Gallery 2008 Houston Area Exhibition Wit, satire, and biting social commentary rule the walls at the 2008 Houston Area Exhibition at the Blaffer Gallery. Sixteen artists representing both emerging and experienced voices are featured in the show. Hedwige Jacobs’s pencil and marker narrative images are as amusing as they are macabre. Jacobs has developed a specifi c vocabulary that factors into much of her work. Guest House oozes bodies. Cul de Sac has its bodies strewn on the front door step, and in Gossip bodies spew out of mouths. Exit evokes a darker and more existential theme, with bodies bunched up at the corners with minuscule exits. A second theme of interlocking and elastic webbing is especially effective in Open Pool. Mindy Kober plays with the mythology of patriotism in 50 States, her riff on the 50 states quarters program. Playing off of regional legends, Kober’s gouaches smartly lure the viewer into their faulty narratives with their fantastic graphic quality and a bold sense of color. Her retelling of history is both provocative and hilarious. Additional humor can be found in Jeff Williams’s grungy set of Venetian blinds, Thickly Settled, which address a kind of neglect using amaz-

ingly convincing synthetic dust. There’s something wonderfully subversive about Andres Janacua’s 40 oddly spaced slides in Bird in Hand (for a colonial theory). A strange suspense pervades Janucua’s tale of a canary and his captor. Why leave nature alone when you can improve upon it? Nicholas Kersulis’s series Rocks consists of small nondescript rocks with gesso extensions. It’s hard to tell if the rock or the pseudorock is the star of this handsome collection. Plus, there’s something delicious about the gesso extensions that totally upstage the rocks. They look important mounted on a sturdy white table and command attention in their nobility. There’s a strong rock/ nonrock tension. Equally sensuous and somewhat puzzling is his installation Circular Panels (Row D) consisting of a freestanding wall with one side that features Plexiglas gesso covered disks while the other features photos of the disks. With a gallon of gas hovering at nearly four dollars, Sasha Dela’s Water Shelve, a shelf unit stacked with water bottles fi lled with a black liquid, feels quite timely in an age where Americans continue to pander

to big oil, drive SUV’s, and deal with the inevitable future of a world with diminishing fossil fuels. Seth Alverson’s loaded paintings of the Alps come complete with clever coffi n inserts in his Life and Death in the Alps. It’s a twisted and totally unexpected juxtaposition of images that meet and merge in an invented universe of picture postcard beauty. Parlor 1, Parlor 2 and Casket reveal less of a fi xation on death than a dreamy view of the saccharine artifacts surrounding funeral culture. The stuff of death itself looms much larger in Untitled, which potently depicts a violent murder scene in vivid detail. Audry Worster’s aggressive canvases speak to blurring of shape and color in two energy driven works, Moonbow and Smokies. In sharp contrast is Julie Spielman’s delicate framed personal history, a father’s stories, which requires to viewer to move in closely as does her transparencies in the galveston plan. Shifting cultural identities play out in Gabriela’s Trzebinski’s work as well, especially in the politically charged My Daddy is a Tranny, which addresses issues related to the African sex trade industry. Hana Hillerova’s airy mirror sculptures look delicately tethered to the fl oor space. Her light crystalline structures project a refreshing barely there unobtrusiveness. Meanwhile, William Betts continues his diligent task to re-pixelate our overly mapped world with his fantastic paint by pixel machine in his straightforward yet compelling surveillance images. -Nancy Wozny

Through August 2nd, University of Houston campus, 713.743.2255, blaffergallery.org 46


visual art review

OPPOSITE FOREGROUND: Hana Hillerova, Untitled (Vibrations), 2008 BACKGROUND: Hana Hillerova Untitled (Collapsed Pyramid), 2008 ABOVE: Jeff Williams, Thickly Settled, 2007 LEFT: Hana Hillerova, Sketch for a Sculpture (Converging Perspectives), 2008 BOTTOM: Seth Alverson, Death and Life in the Alps, 2007

47


visual art review

The Menil Collection Museum How Artists Draw Bernice Rose drew a daunting task in introducing the museum’s vast holdings of works on paper to the public as a comprehensive unit. How Artists Draw gives emphasis to Rose’s desire to focus on large collections by exemplary artists in forming the core of the Drawing Institute’s scholarship. Much like the press conferences held by police departments after seizing large amounts of drugs and guns, everything is out on the table. The galleries are stuffed with the most famous artists of the 20th century, with a little bleed into the 19th and 21st courtesy of Georges Seurat and Richard Serra, respectively. Loosely chronological, this smorgasbord of illustrious names is a delightful primer on modern art movements. The exhibit begins with a selection of drawings by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists that refl ect their interests in Eastern culture and a dawning industrial age. Signifi cantly, art collectors in the late 1800s began to value sketches and drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque matters, changing patterns of production by artists to include less refi ned and fi nished works as art for the fi rst time. This development accelerated in the work of Picasso, whose oeuvre is represented by drawings from his rigid Cubist phase as well as col48

lage sketches that are so casual they could be daydream doodles. In the same gallery is a selection of Dada and Surrealism, with two standout drawings by Francis Picaba and Man Ray. A beautiful part of the museum’s archives, collages of bizarre scenes mirror the painful memories and harsh realities of life between world wars. Rounding out the fi rst half of the 20th century, as well as European dominance of Modern art, two paintings by Jean Dubuffet illustrate the heavy atmosphere of Parisian street life after World War II with scrawls and scratches on a dark ground of purplish oils. A shift in power across the At-

lantic brings the visitor into the heart of the Menil Collection’s strengths. Beginning with Abstract Expressionist heavyweights like Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, the exhibit expands popular defi nitions of these seminal artists by letting viewers in on their thoughts with a glimpse at personal ephemera. The small sketches of color fi eld painter Ellsworth Kelly are especially illuminating, revealing the sources for his large abstract paintings as photographs from Life magazine of the Vietnam War and other worldly infl uences. An exceptional collection of drawings by Cy Twombly is a treat for the well-versed, although his style


visual art review OPPOSITE TOP: Max Ernst, Untitled, 1920 ca. OPPOSITE BOTTOM: Willem de Kooning, Untitled, 1968 RIGHT: Claes Oldenburg, Proposal for a Façade for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in the Shape of a Geometric Mouse, 1967 BELOW: Paul Cezanne, Montagne (Mountain), ca. 1895

through May 18th, 1515 Sul Ross, 713.525.9400, menil.org

may be more fully appreciated at the satellite gallery across the street which bears his name and holds many of the artist’s most famous paintings. Both Port Arthur native Robert Rauschenberg and his sometime companion Jasper Johns were fond of drawing as a medium unto itself. The important collection of mid-century work included here maps the most famous period of their careers from behind the scenes. Jasper Johns’s icons, American fl ags and patterned abstractions are executed in several mediums, but Rauschenberg’s drawings are subtle, experimental tangents compared to his crude and emotional combines that earned him the grand prize at the Venice Biennale in 1964. The Menil has become a local

tribute to the Texan artist since his death in May 2008. The most entertaining room of the exhibit is dedicated to Claus Oldenburg’s fascination with perverting the iconic face of Mickey Mouse. The Pop artist harbored an obsession with the innumerable possibilities of such a simple trope, and the Menil collection is a tribute to his obsession as well as a valuable body of work for Modernist scholarship. Even conceptualist artists draw, and a few diagrams by Bruce Nauman and Robert Gober retain their cognitive absurdity very well. Sketches by Chuck Close and Lee Bontecou reveal the mechanical infl uences that underlie their spectacular hallucinatory work. With wry humor Belgian trickster Marcel Broodthaers uses

collage and found images to great effect. Toying with drawing in his own sculptural way, Richard Serra covered a wall-length wedge of canvas in thick black oilstick that dips to the left at about eye level. The atmospheric effect is an interesting interpretation of his large sculptures, with the same perceptual weight and none of the steel. The most recent piece included in the show is a conceptual drawing defi ned by written instructions. Several Houston artists recreated Sol LeWitt’s Scribble Wall Drawing, two columns of pulsating graphite marks that extend all the way to the ceiling. Over 1200 of his wall drawings have been created since 1968. Drawing’s liveliness was a crucial distinction to LeWitt, and the geometric harshness of his paintings, sculptures and installations changes in his series of drawings. More than a preliminary exercise for painting, drawing is a mature and distinctive branch of art that has its own history. In establishing the Drawing Institute at the Menil Collection Bernice Rose has drawn the blueprints for a history of 20th century drawing with this exhibit, and while it may be overstuffed it is only to be studious. Ambitious and academic, How Artists Draw is only the beginning of a strong relationship between Houston and sketches from the world’s best artists. -Sean Carroll 49


visual art review

Wade Wilson Art Anne Appleby and Maddy Rosenberg

Two very different yet subtly similar painters are on display at Wade Wilson Art in Houston. Anne Appleby, a minimalist color fi eld painter, and Maddy Rosenberg, a sort of miniature realist, make for strange and wonderful bedfellows. The show is a testament to the gallery’s curatorial inspiration and insight, revealing a real knack for juxtaposing seemingly disparate approaches to what ends up being a remarkably coherent ensemble. The show marks Appleby’s fi rst exhibition in Houston, though her work is well known nationally and 50

beyond. The artist comes from the Concrete school of painting that employs Bauhaus ideals in the execution of minimal panels of color unheeded by content such as representation (or any other formal distraction). The paintings can be read as a sort of materialization of a James Turrel light installation. They have a glowing effect that is deceptively simple. The former Bay Area resident now lives and works in Montana, an environment that would seem a perfect inspirational setting for the artist’s epic displays. Her paintings somehow refl ect an endless horizon of atmosphere,

the canvases big sky vignettes. Though Appleby’s scale is not monumental, her panels contain in them a confi dence not found in many other “heroic” sized paintings of the Twentieth century. In Prairie Cottonwoods, a spaced triptych depicting three shades of green incrementally getting darker, the artist makes great use of a simple presentation. The panels are fi ve feet tall and together measure almost eight feet across, which sounds larger than the works come across. However, Appleby is able to create a sustained presence in the work through her treatment


visual art review of the paint. She mixes oil and cold wax onto the panel-backed canvases in a method that is truly elegant. She sands and stains; gradually building up a milky saturation of color that gathers intensity toward the center of the painting. She achieves this unique viscosity through physical application as well as adeptly layering subtle color shifts over one another. The effect is piercing in its delivery, especially since the lack of “content” allows for the viewer to arrive all at once, as it were, to the piece. The paintings work something like a haiku poem; formally systematic, but conceptually ripe with simple truisms. One could argue that these truisms have been stated before, by Brice Marden in the Sixties, for instance, but that would be to miss the point entirely. This work does not have anything at all to do

OPPOSITE: Anne Appleby, Lackawana, 2008 BELOW: Maddy Rosenberg, 50/50, 1998

through May 24th, 4411 Montrose, 713.521.2977, wadewilsonart.com

with the notion of the avant-garde, nor does it care to. Its introspective, mandala-like treatment of pure color inspires sustained meditative viewing. Appleby’s paintings are interspersed with the work of Maddy Rosenberg. At fi rst, this coupling seems to be random, the two artists having little to inform about one another. This reading is quickly diffused, however, when Rosenberg’s unique methodology becomes apparent. She paints painstakingly realistic slices of architecture, landscapes and portraits, all placed in grid-infl uenced presentations. Her miniature panels are juxtaposed with panels of pure color that register as resting stops between the cryptic narratives. The works reference Giorgio De Chirico’s surrealistic landscapes as much as they pay homage to Rene Magrette’s masterful style of application. Although her art is one of complex interludes and random elements feigning (and at times fi ghting) one another, her exquisite treatment of paint only compliments Appleby’s very different sense of composition. If the two artists were any less skillful in their medium, their works would cease to intrigue. As it is, the presentation of Appleby’s confi dently quiet paintings, large in presence, work on a sort of macro level, where as Rosenberg’s small, amazingly detailed vistas pull the viewer in to a more personal experience. This dynamic keeps the viewer busy, at times wanting to back up from the Appleby’s panels to better appreciate the color combinations/ variations, while at others, feeling the need to pull in close to Rosenberg’s representations and further examine the contextual elements. Not only is the work presented in a manner that elevates both artists’ interests, but also the pursuit of painting itself. The works of Appleby and Rosenberg come as a breath of fresh air in an art environment seemingly dominated at times by installation wows and conceptual coups, works based in the artist’s ego more than the sublimity that the simple medium of paint can still contain. -Garland Fielder 51


restaurant review

Brave New Barbecue

Monica & Co. Turn Tradition on Its Smoky Ear

By John DeMers

N

ine out of ten Texans agree: the last thing most of us want is any restaurant that forces us to use the words “barbecue” and “new” in the same sentence. Barbecue is all about old – withered, dusty, decrepit, falling apart. And that’s just the people. A lot of the places look even worse. Barbecue is all about the reality (or at least the illusion) of some old guy in the back, searing off his eyebrows smoking meats the way his daddy taught him to. Or even better, his granddaddy. But then along comes Monica Pope, who’s nobody’s idea of a granddaddy. And she’s an awardwinning “gourmet” chef to boot! Maybe we’d better start working on that sentence… As one of Houston’s most respected chefs, long of Boulevard Bistro in Montrose and now of chic, farmers market-driven t’afia in Midtown, Pope has no busi52

ness messing with Texas barbecue. Except, as the saying goes, because she can. Still, what she and her chef de cuisine/pit boss/accomplice Dax McAnear have produced at Beaver’s is a far, far better thing than you’d expect if you lived in fear of “nouvelle barbecue” from California. They have flown by their chef instincts, to be sure; but those instincts have let them make all decisions afresh (unstrangled by some of the culinary world’s dumbest do’s and don’ts) only to end up with many glorious and traditional-tending flavors. The place called Beaver’s is something of a Houston institution, though probably more for its beer than its barbecue. As elsewhere across Texas, beer paid the bills for decades and barbecue was only there to keep people drinking. Beaver’s, then, (whether by this or its even earlier name, Doody’s) was an ice house. Pope and her partners in this venture

still call it one, and happily still serve some mighty cold beer. But life being what it is, we shouldn’t be surprised to find the bar serving up more top-shelf martinis, cosmos and margaritas than bottles clogged with lime wedges. “A lot of the cheffies in town don’t really legitimize barbecue,” Pope says, “so in some ways it’s a big risk for us to do this. We actually want to keep that old, humble Texas barbecue, but we do want to input our ideas and our passion into it. We’re not trying to be foofoo and fancy, put everything on a plate and compose it. But we can’t really excise our culinary minds either.” “I grew up in a trailer park,” adds McAnear, perhaps with a wink, “so this is my kind of food. Happily, Monica is letting me trashify everything.” Pope doesn’t like the notion of “fancy barbecue,” any more than she enjoys off-putting


LEFT: Philly Mac and Cheese, Berkshire Country-Style Pork Ribs, Braised Greens, and the Wednesday special, Fish and Chips. A Southern Gimlet towers over the feast.

phrases like “fine dining.” “It’s not fancy,” she insists. “It’s just food.” Yet by any measuring stick available (other than Beaver’s delightfully casual feel and absolute lack of dress code), some measure of “fancy” does apply. All the food is made from the best ingredients possible, including many things from artisanal ranches and farms that get named virtually in prayer on the menu. Many things normally bought by barbecue joints are made from scratch here. Many recipes with three or four ingredients, from dry rub to cole slaw dressing to banana pudding, here have seven or eight. And most tellingly, many dishes associated with a single cooking method (such as traditional smoking) are subjected here to two or three, most ending up in the deep fryer. As a general rule for life: the more cooking processes used and the more pots dirtied, the more trained chefs are in the kitchen. Since the old Beaver’s had a pit – a simple box with five shelves that McAnear dismisses as a “smoke closet” – the chef set about not only learning how to use it but developing an entire technique for forcing it to produce its best. Wood, for instance, became the subject of an extended science experiment, with all kinds of woods sampled at different

times and temperatures, each result carefully rated and recorded. The result: Beaver’s smokes its meats over a combination of oak and maple. Meats tend to get covered with a dry rub and left alone for half a day or more, then smoked at 200 degrees according to their dimensions – Beaver’s “Harris Ranch” briskets upwards of 17 hours. Beyond the smoked meats, the chefs have come up with truly extraordinary appetizers (cream cheese-and-smoked-pork stuffed pepperoncini – “Bread It. Fry it. End scene,” instructs the menu), side dishes (Philly mac and cheese topped with sweet-stewed tomatoes) and desserts (homemade banana pudding with “Lilla” wafers, named after Pope and Andrea Lazar’s young daughter). In a sure departure from Beaver’s icehouse days, there’s a nifty kid’s menu available, plus at least one lonesome-looking high chair in the dining room. “We look at everything more like chefs do,” says McAnear, who likes to assure his uppity peers that barbecue is the original Slow Food. “We’re not saying the guy using only salt and pepper sucks. We’re only adding what we as chefs want to taste. We’re asking what we can do from our arsenal.”

Beavers is located at 2310 Decatur St. just south of Washington Ave. at Sawyer St. Visit beavershouston.com or call 713-84-BEAV for hours. 53


in memory

Tom Jones 1956-2008

photo by Joe Carte 54


ArtsHouston June 2008 Issue