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Out East II: Report From the Snow

Last Friday night a friend and I ventured out into the single digits for Boston’s unusually depressing “First Friday” gallery night. Only a few days earlier, I had been lounging in Texas springtime temperatures, enjoying the art of the likes of Hills Snyder, Janet Tyson, and the new Ft. Worth Modern. There’s some good stuff being made here in Boston, but it pales in comparison to the consistently challenging art for which Texas is increasingly becoming known. Indeed, most of the artwork that has recently left any lasting impact on me in the Northeast has originated in the Lone Star state.

It’s always good to see a familiar face, especially when you’re not expecting it. Aside from those artists who”ve gained a good deal of commercial success, I’m often surprised to see lesser known artists from Texas all the way up here in Boston. The bimonthly magazine New American Paintings presents regional “juried exhibitions in print,” from which the editors curate a small exhibition for their Open Studios Press (OSP) Gallery. From Michael Auping and Andrea Karne’s choices for the Seventh Western Competition, the OSP showcased six Texas artists. The highlight of the exhibit was Michael Roch’s fresco-like painting Community Planned, which was rich with unique surfaces, sexy contours, and thought-provoking childlike imagery. Although Auping and Karne raised the standard for what is typically a haphazard and mediocre grouping of overly-diverse painters, the lack of context of this exhibition (which also included David Aylsworth, Augusto Di Stefano, Trenton Doyle-Hancock, Tommy Fitzpatrick and Kirk Hayes) still overshadowed the quality of the art.

Michael Roch's Community Planned at the Open Studios Press show

If you’ve ever spent your Saturday mornings watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS, then you’re familiar with one of Boston’s best art dealers. Dan Elias of Elias Fine Art (who is also the host of the show) has established himself as a leading supporter of contemporary sculpture in New England. Showing local favorites like Taylor Davis and Alice Swenden Carter, as well as out-of-towners, Elias currently has Sharon Engelstein’s Cold Air, which is wowing new viewers. Engelstein has filled the small warehouse space with two inflated pieces and several of her “3-D prints.” Her unique blend of sexual innuendoes and futuristic forms make for a flirty and fun experience within almost any context.

In New York, several artists with Texas ties continue to make waves. At Frederieke Taylor Gallery, Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s recent exhibition titled Nacho de Paz was extended for an additional month due to its favorable reception. With more color and camp than his earlier work, San Antonian Mondini-Ruiz has arranged several groupings of found and purchased objects in a formally attractive manner that addresses the power of display. Similar to works such as High Yellow, which was seen in the Fort Worth leg of Ultrabaroque a few years ago, Mondini-Ruiz’s most successful pieces are those that are categorized according to color. In the words of Ken Johnson, “…the sheer profusion of objects, the order of their arrangements and the moments of poetry and humor make for an entertaining exhibition.” *

Engelstein's install at Dan Elias Fine Art

In two other adventurous exhibitions, Trenton Doyle-Hancock and Erick Swenson are placed respectively in great company among some of contemporary and historical art’s most worthy contributors. At the relatively new independent space Triple Candie in Harlem, Sugar and Cream parallels Quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Whitney Museum by presenting eight contemporary artists who utilize sewn wall hangings in their art. Along with Doyle-Hancock, the exhibit includes Tracey Emin, David Hammonds, Jim Hodges, James Hyde, and others. Surprisingly, each artists’ work is allowed a bit of conceptual space of its own and the usual attention to “something pinned to the wall” is merely the unifying factor. It is an interesting thesis, and the grouping results in a cohesive and successful exhibition, one in which Doyle-Hancock is right at home.

At James Cohan Gallery, the exhibition Air features Erick Swenson alongside Gustave Courbet (!), Marcel Duchamp, Olafur Eliasson, Bill Viola, Jeff Koons, and others. Air centers around the notion of air in three thematic premises: the physical/perceptual qualities of air, the conceptual musings on air, and air as a metaphor. Alongside 28 other artworks from the 17th century to the present, one of Swenson’s hybrid animals is “wind-swept” (according to the gallery’s press release). I’m not totally convinced by the correlation, but it’s always a pleasure to see Swenson’s meticulous and otherworldly work. Is that a collective cry for a recent solo show that I hear?

Franco Mondini-Ruiz's Nacho de Paz opened with a Tex-Mexfiesta at Frederieke Taylor Gallery in New York

Fortunately, there seems to be a steady export of Texas art to my parts to keep me warm. In the words of Josh Pearson of the Denton band Lift to Experience (which recently performed at Cambridge’s Middle East), “Texas is the reason.”

C. Sean Horton is an artist living in Allston, MA.

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