"Mary McCleary: A Survey 1996-2011" Is Well-Crafted and Wonderfully Obsessive, But There's Something Missing

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy Art League Houston
Detail of Swimming in my tiny, tiny myness.
The Art League Houston named Mary McCleary Artist of the Year and is presenting a jam-packed 15-year survey of her work. McCleary is widely known for her collages, which incorporate "paint, paper, rag board, foil, glitter, sticks, wire, mirrors, pencils, nails, glass, painted toothpicks, string, leather, lint, small plastic toys and other objects" to create figurative images. The face in a portrait might be comprised of hundreds of multicolored fragments of glass, while the background roils with bits of painted string.

The work is incredibly well-crafted and wonderfully obsessive, but there is something missing. Even allowing for the 15-year time span, there isn't a consistency of vision in the work, there is only a consistency of materials.

Some of McCleary's imagery seems as if it is trying to have an edge -- a living room scene of a white, upper-middle-class family might have some dysfunctional back-story, a work depicting boys with sticks may be trying for Lord of the Flies overtones - while others, like a natural history museum-esque arrangement of moths, go in other directions. The materials trump the figurative imagery and whatever content McCleary is trying to imbue it with.

The most successful work in the show is Sehnsucht from 2006, a giant floral arrangement that calls to mind 17th-century Dutch still-lifes but is fascinatingly comprised of tiny beads, snippets of paper and string. Here you aren't wondering what the hell the relationship might be between the imagery and the materials. It's exuberantly and masterfully decorative but feels less craftsy. It's much more successful as a fine art piece than many of the works with seemingly more "important" subject matter.

The show runs through November 12 at Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose Boulevard, 713-523-4053.


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Art League Houston

1953 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX

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