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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A Lawyer's Head Injury Unveils Hidden Artistic Talents

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Photo by Mark Reyes
Artist Patrick Fagerberg with piece from "Embracing the Sublime" exhibit at Gremillion & Co.

A man walks into a bar, gets hit on the head by a 400-pound camera boom, and emerges almost unscathed. Or so that's what Patrick Fagerberg thought, after his plans to hear the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark went horribly awry in 2011. "I was at South by Southwest for an OMD concert," said Fagerberg, who heard the first note of the guitar before being knocked out. Taken out on a stretcher, he was stitched up and released from the hospital after just 7 hours. "I was happy that my neck wasn't broken," said Fagerberg. "Two days later, I couldn't put sentences together. I knew I was in trouble."

With that single note, the legal career of this successful Austin defense attorney ended and the darkness set in. "I had to grieve my own death. The depression was horrendous," said Fagerberg, who struggled with substance abuse and the loss of his girlfriend and career, eventually turning to cognitive therapy and psychotherapy to deal with the stages of grief.

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Painting in the Texas Tradition: Contemporary Texas Regionalism

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Courtesy of William Reaves Fine Art
"Mockingbird in the Hill Country" by Billy Hassell
The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts takes its visitors on a journey exploring Texas' land- and cityscapes, wildlife, and home-life in Painting in the Texas Tradition: Contemporary Texas Regionalism. Produced in collaboration with the William Reaves Fine Art gallery, this exhibition features work from 15 of the state's most established regionalist artists, whose paintings, drawings and prints act as windows to vistas and vignettes across Texas.

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The Tapestries Are Nice, but the True Stars of "Spectacular Rubens" Are the Paintings

Categories: Visual Arts

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Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
An exhibition with the formidable title "Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist" opened this week at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The show comes to us from the Prado Museum in Madrid by way of the Getty in Los Angeles. It consists of four huge 17th-century tapestries along with the small (very small by comparison) paintings by Rubens that served as their designs, plus assorted other things that I'll mention later. Houston is the last stop before everything is shipped back to the owners, mostly in Madrid, perhaps never to travel again, almost certainly not all together.

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Patrick Renner's Sentinel Stands Guard at City Hall

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All photos by Monica Fuentes
Sentinel by Patrick Renner
There's a plain esplanade, with grass and trees, on Montrose in front of the Art League of Houston building now. Up until recently, the colorful, whimsical Funnel Tunnel snaked its way through the trees. The public art installation was created by Patrick Renner, a 2015 Houston Press MasterMind Award winner. Made up of hundreds of thin strips of wood painted in a wild variety of colors and attached to a steel frame. Renner's Funnel Tunnel was recently dismantled and a new Renner installation popped up on the plaza of City Hall's front door.

Made of materials similar to those used in Funnel Tunnel, the round sculpture is three feet wide and 12 feet tall and resembles a tower. "It's called Sentinel," Renner tells us. "Originally it was going to be two smaller pieces, one o each side of the front doors. But then that idea was scrapped and I was told I'd have to move away from the doors. So instead of two six foot tall pieces I made on 12 foot tall piece."

This story continues on the next page.

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Zoya Tommy Reunites Contemporary Artists for Final Show Before Moving Downtown

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of Zoya Tommy Gallery
"Long May She Wave" by Marco Villegas
Viewing the New Work: Group Show exhibit at Zoya Tommy Gallery is a bit like attending a class reunion - an opportunity to see classmates from years past and find out what they're doing today. A collective of ten artists, most of who have shown here in the past, represents the swan song for this location, but not for this gallery, which will reopen in a larger venue at 4102 Fannin on March 6.

Marco Villegas' Long May She Wave was a standout, a 60" x 72" latex on canvas piece with multi-dimensional layers of blacks on white and a thoughtfully placed breaking waves stencil effect.


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Prepare Yourself for a Journey Into Darkness

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of William Reaves Fine Art
"Dissection" by Jack Boynton

Prepare yourself for a journey into darkness at William Reaves Fine Art, with its current modernist exhibition, The Reductive Landscape: Paintings & Drawings by Jack Boynton and McKie Trotter. Boynton's Blind Beast, a monstrously large side profile of a flat nosed mythical creature's head with course hair and yellow mouth against a somber gray background is incredibly powerful. He might not have eyes to see, but he should be feared nonetheless. Dissection, which was painted a year later, is almost certainly representative of the demise of this same creature, with the lightning cleaved halves showing the fading heartbeat on one side, the empty void of life on the other, and a cataclysmic background of iridescent green.

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Art or Not, Mel Chin's Work Is All Over Houston

Categories: Visual Arts

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Courtesy of the artist
The Funk & Wag from A to Z at the Blaffer Art Museum.
As a non-professional Houston gallery-goer, I've been aware of Mel Chin sort of floating in the ether for a long time. I've even seen his work in group and solo shows, I know, though the only one I can definitely remember is his The Funk and Wag From A to Z at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012. I remember liking it a lot.

Well, Chin is no longer floating in the ether. For the next few months, he's practically taking up the whole art atmosphere of Houston with his 40-year retrospective "Mel Chin: Rematch." Chin and the show have already done the same with stops at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

It's a show so big that here in Houston, it takes four museums to hold it all. The Blaffer Art Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Asia Society Texas Center and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art will all have parts of it into March or April, varying by venue. And as a special treat for hometown folks, there's even an added bonus of Chin drawings at Art League Houston.

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The Stars Have Fallen on Discovery Green

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo by Katya Horner
"Field of Light" by Bruce Munro at Discovery Green
The stars have fallen on Discovery Green, courtesy of British artist Bruce Munro and his Field of Light installation of illuminated fiber optics. Living in the nation's fourth largest city, light pollution has made it impossible to see the more than 2,500 stars visible to the human eye, but for just a few more weeks we can see something almost as fantastic in the 4,550 radiant, frosted glass spheres along the Brown Promenade of this downtown park.

Mounted on springs and waving in the wind, the lights wax and wane like fireflies, with bright lines of illuminated fiber optic trailing back to the energy sources.


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