Finding Beauty and Dignity in the Undignified World of Ship-Breaking

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of d. m. allison gallery
"Vittoria" by Jeff Jennings from "New Work" exhibit at d. m. allison gallery
Life at sea has always been adventurous and lucrative, from the early wooden rafts of ancient Assyrians to the Phoenician traders of 1200 BC to the fully rigged galleons of the 14th century. Modern day oil tankers and container ships serve as the subject matter for Jeff Jennings's New Work exhibit at d. m. allison gallery, though the artist has captured these behemoths in their last moments of glory.

These magnificent ships, which serve for 25-30 years delivering international cargo, eventually become uninsurable and are sold for salvage. Most ships are recycled in Bangladesh, India and China, where the safety rules are less stringent and the labor more affordable.

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The Nature of Forms and Intentionally Dirty - Dual Exhibitions at Nicole Longnecker Gallery

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo by Frank Sherwood White
Frank Sherwood White's "Pelvis" from "The Nature of Forms" exhibit at Nicole Longnecker Gallery
The current dual exhibitions at Nicole Longnecker Gallery - photographer Frank Sherwood White's The Nature of Forms and Julian Lorber's Intentionally Dirty - both illustrate the erosion of nature through thoughtful and captivating imagery, though the resemblance ends there.

White plays with the shape of rocks, often pitted and marred, seeing the curves of a human form and pairing those images with similarly shaped models. In about half of his pieces he has placed a carefully-lit subject out of the camera's field of vision, then positioned a rough-edged glass near the curved rock, so that the human form is reflected. The results are sublime, especially in Pelvis, where the ghostly image of the model's lap vanishes off the edge, bringing the viewer's eye back to the strength of the curved stone.


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The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Dancing With the Machine, Texas Abstract Group Signing and More

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Photo by Anthony Rathbun Photography
Members of FrenetiCore Dance in Dancing with the Machine
There are two great shows opening this week so it's going to be tough deciding which performance to attend on Friday. Thankfully, both continue through next week so you'll have time to catch them both before either ends their run.

First up on Friday is FrenetiCore Dance's first full-length narrative production in two years Dancing with the Machine. The conflict between 21st-century technology and 19th-century morality is at the center of the narrative.

"[Our current] humanity is in an era of high technological advancement, but socially and morally, many people are stuck in the 1800s. There are those who still believe the world would be a better place if women were second-class citizens and gays would simply vanish," says FrenetiCore member and sometime Houston Press contributor Adam Castañeda.

The stylized Steampunk production follows Aida, a young, free-spirited heroine living in a postapocalyptic world who's on a quest to challenge the society's troublesome political climate. Throughout Aida's journey, she unearths personal family secrets, discovers a mystical machine and falls in love with a fellow revolutionary.

Based on a story by Castañeda, Dancing features choreography by company Artistic Director Rebecca French and costumes by dancer/filmmaker/designer Ashley Horn. Horn was asked to design wardrobes for "sketchy barmaids, dispossessed wanderers, rebel fighters [and] minions of the crooked government," Castañeda explains. "The movement [in the show] reflects each character's temperaments and inclinations." In order to exhibit such personality in the dancing, French called upon her knowledge of modern and contemporary vocabulary while mixing in hip-hop, jazz, ballet and Broadway-musical dance.

Dance with the Machine runs 8 p.m. March 27, 28, 29 and April 2, 3, 4; 2 p.m. March 29. Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation. For information, visit freneticore.net. $5 to $30.

This story continues on the next page.

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The Joys and Sorrows of a 19th-Century Brazilian Coffee Plantation

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo by Daria Ratliff
"Berimbau" and "Capoeira" by Chell Vassallo, at Galeria Regina

Become instantly transported into the lives of Brazilian coffee plantation workers at portrait artist Chell Vassallo's Terroir: The Taste of a Place exhibit at Galeria Regina.

Hailing from Brazil, where her grandfather worked the coffee fields, Vassallo has sketched in charcoal the faces of people she has met or photographs she has admired, portraying them in this earlier time and place. During the first half of the 19th century, 1.5 million slaves were imported to Brazil to work on plantations, allowing the country to become the dominant producer of coffee in the world by 1840.


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Marfa Ghost Lights Spotted at Hiram Butler Gallery

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo by Tom DuBrock
"Here it Comes" by Brooke Stroud, Hiram Butler Gallery
In his new Paintings exhibit at Hiram Butler Gallery, acrylic artist Brooke Stroud calls upon both the known and unknown, producing rectangular nature-inspired abstracts with saturated gradations of hue, punctuated by blocks of color. Two of his strongest pieces, 2015's Blue Standard and last year's Star Nursery, are perhaps ghostly embodiments of the ghost lights of Marfa.

Larger in size than the others in this collection, Blue Standard might be hard to find in the gallery, but it's worth the hunt. One is drawn to the glowing, ghostly orbs, almost pulsing as they float high in the star-dotted night sky, the misty beams attracting each other like a silent, otherworldly communication. Upwardly vertical strokes of black heat rise from the ground and, in the distance, a small pale blue structure glows pink, as if echoing its response.

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"Becoming Modern" Is an Elegant Small Show With a Big Impact at the Menil

Categories: Visual Arts

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Graham S. Haber
Odilon Redon, The Fool (or Intuition), 1877

I've been mesmerized by a fingernail -- the one on the right pinkie of Odilon Redon's The Fool (or Intuition), an 1877 charcoal drawing currently on view at the Menil in "Becoming Modern: Nineteenth-Century French Drawings from The Morgan Library & Museum and The Menil Collection."

The fingernail grips your attention like a talon, drawing you into the bizarre world of Redon (1840-1916), a French Symbolist artist whose work foreshadowed the Surrealists of the next century -- and at the Menil, in the next gallery. It takes only eight of his haunting drawings grouped together in one corner of a gallery to make that world all-consuming.

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Exploring a "New World" Through Japanese Photography at MFAH

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Courtesy of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Nobuo Yamanaka's "Pinhole Room Revolution 1"
Grainy and swirling, yet starkly revealing images bridge the past and present in For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, "For a New World to Come" focuses on avant-garde Japanese works produced during a time seminal to Japan's own history, as well as that of the global art world. Featuring approximately 250 photographs, photo books, paintings, sculpture, and film-based installations by 29 artists, "For a New World to Come" reveals the explorations of contemporary art as manifested through the Japanese lens.

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Tel Aviv-Based Artist Brings Bold Colors to Desert Landscape

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of Gilad Efrat and Inman Gallery
"Darwin Thinking Path" by Gilad Efrat

For his fourth solo exhibition at Inman Gallery, Israeli-born Gilad Efrat, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, continues to challenge himself as a painter. In his earlier works he perfected the art of producing fluid representations of the expansive desert landscape, veering towards cooler browns and tans. Evolving from there, Efrat invoked the grid technique to create highly detailed architectural images from photographic references, adding warping as if to demonstrate heat rising from the desert.

His current exhibit, "Sandwalk", was named for Charles Darwin's famous thinking path, which provided the English biologist a regimented routine for channeling deeper thoughts. This focus on pattern and movement has resulted in two very different pieces in the show, but with a newer direction toward deeper, bolder color.


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An Artist's Exploration of the Crisis in Ukraine Begins by Remembering the Past

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo by Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak
"Will the Grass Grow Over It?" by Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak
Propaganda can kill, and one famous example is the story of The New York Times reporter Walter Duranty who, in 1931, regurgitated Communist propaganda into a series of 13 articles about Joseph Stalin's rule over the Soviet Union and, in doing so, winning the 1932 Pulitzer Prize. While a misinformed America slept, Stalin forced individual farmers to work on collective farms and fulfill impossible government quotas. Unable to consume their own grain, a 1932-33 famine in Ukraine resulted in the starvation and death of almost seven million persons.

This is a very personal story for artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, whose parents escaped the famine, and who understands the dangers of complacency. Her paintings, drawings and collages, which incorporate objects and materials brought back from her ancestral home interspersed with newspaper clippings and photographs, are a graphic cry for help. On display now at Hunter Gather Project, her work draws attention to the current crisis in Ukraine, with Russia not honoring the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, breaking its promise to respect the existing borders of Ukraine.


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"The Infinity Machine" Starts the Menil's Byzantine Fresco Chapel Reinvention

Categories: Visual Arts

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The Menil Collection/George Hixson
"The Infinity Machine"
In Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's installation "The Infinity Machine," a cluster of mirrors dangles from the ceiling, slowly rotating in the darkened interior of The Menil Collection's Byzantine Fresco Chapel. There are oval mirrors, gilt mirrors, beveled mirrors, wall mirrors, hand mirrors, in all shapes and sizes. Some are vintage, some are antique. In the center of the mass, two mirrors face each other, reflecting infinitely.

The mirrors hang from the dome of the chapel, where, a few years ago, a visitor would look up and see a 13th-century fresco depicting Christ Pantocrator ("ruler of all"). Illuminated by just a couple of small spotlights, the dozens of mirrors reflect darting and flickering light across the walls and over visitors. A haunting, otherworldly hum of sound emanates from eight speakers around the room. At intervals, a voice counts to eight. The "audio collage" is truly otherworldly, incorporating recordings collected by the Voyager I and II probes as they passed the outer planets of our solar system. The sounds are recordings of solar winds striking the electromagnetic fields of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It's like the spaceship equivalent of driving through a neighborhood with your windows down.

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