Fair Thee Well

by Laura Lark October 25, 2011

Finally. That Pony I’ve Always Wanted.

The second whoppin’ big art fair has come to a close, and oh! I have so much to say that I doubt, what with today’s average attention span, any one will even make it to the end!

As loyal readers know, the Texas Contemporary Art Fair was not my first rodeo. But it was the best rodeo, and that’s because Glasstire, my totally favorite online reading experience (except for the Onion and “I Hate Lebron James.com”), had a real live tiny white pony in their booth on the opening preview night! Yes! A real pony with “GLASSTIRE” painted on its little side and a bowlegged fella in a big hat named Cowboy Mike making sure that nobody got weird with ol’ Sno-Ball or Sparkles or whatever that animal’s name was.

Davenport’s Glasstire Saloon With Hand Painted Bottles

I’ve never seen this at an art fair, and since I am always on the lookout for art that excites me, and for ponies in general, Glasstire just blew my hair back! On top of that, there was an old-timey saloon that artist and groovy Glasstire guy Bill Davenport whipped up for the occasion.

Shane “Pappy” Tolbert, Recovering From Another Urban Hootenanny.

The bar was like something you’d see in a Deputy Dawg cartoon. You could even buy the hand painted bottles lined up on shelves behind the bar. The only thing missing was Pee Wee Herman tending bar. Or at the very least, dancing on it.

“Tequila” on YouTube

Bill Davenport is probably one of my favorite Houston artists. The goofy details of his saloon, like his mini-Dubuffet on the putt-putt course, smacked of grade school craft hour while maintaining sophistication and savvy. Yeah, I really dug that, and that’s saying a lot, considering that Davenport tried to charge me $20 for a Glasstire tee shirt.

This online journal for visual art made me (and, I’ll bet, the other 1,753 Glasstire bloggers) proud! But were they trying to tell me something? The front desk people couldn’t find my press pass and sporty lanyard that would have made me seem cool and part of the in-crowd, so I was given a road-cone orange TEMPORARY WORK PASS, that, I noticed, was also being worn by a man pushing a garbage bin down one of the aisles.

Ah, no matter! Glasstire rocks. Give them money.

In this blog post I will be violating my biggest rule: Do Not, As An Artist Represented by a Local Gallery, Discuss or Review Locally Represented Artists. I figure that if I’m not comfortable trashing a show in the gallery where I show my work, I probably should just avoid the subject completely. It’s unethical! Duh!

However, if all artists who write stuck to this rule, there probably wouldn’t be any content for the art rags. And that’s sad. Why? Because it means that the only people who care about contemporary art (especially Houston and Texas in general) are the artists who make it and a few outsiders, and our oft-times gingerly handled criticism is one big circle jerk. Why, in a town with one of the most prestigious writing programs in the country, as well as one of the most esteemed critics, we can’t find a competent writer without a conflict of interest to cover this beat  is beyond me.

The guy on the left, Raphael Rubenstein? He’s the one you SHOULD be stalking for your next review.

Besides, most artists don’t want to be remembered for their astute commentary on visual art. They want to be remembered for their visual art. Just ask Peter Plagens. (See “Mama, Don’t Let Your Artists Grow Up to Be Critics”–Peter Plagens, Art in America, May, 2011)

Wow. I’m depressed. I have to eat a can of frosting and throw up.

Okay, I’m back! In this post, I’ll be operating under the “GRB Clause”. Meaning if you exhibit art in the George R. Brown Convention Center, I’ll talk about it. But don’t limit yourself to just the art fair. Feel free to do your conceptual performance art in the middle of the Gun Show.

This was a good fair, though. There was a lot of really good art, and the Texas-based spaces looked as good—often better—than the out of towners. I almost wept. In a good way.

In fact, a few of my all-out favorite works were by Texas or Texas-based artists. Let’s start with Andy Coolquitt’s installation of arranged Plexiglas, punctuated with what can only be described as random crap (a pair of crumpled men’s pants, a narrow column of old Bic lighters lined up, side by side), presented in cooperation with the Blaffer Gallery (a solo exhibition of Coolquitt’s work is slated post-renovation)

Coolquitt’s utilization of arbitrary junk slightly echoes, at least materially, the sculptures of Rachel Harrison, but Coolquitt’s objects (wrapped poles with a glowing bulb at each end) are more specific, seemingly less studied (despite the fact that much more labor has gone into many of the pieces), and much less precious than Harrison’s. This installation also brought to mind artists such as Franz West and Urs Fischer, as the work had both a carelessly crafted feel and a studied disregard for the space in which it was installed.

Though his installation may employ elements found in the work of other sculptors, Andy Coolquitt’s sensibility is fresh in a particularly discrete manner. Like Rachel Harrison, Coolquitt amasses discarded and unrelated objects to form the whole of a work; however, his endeavors come off as arrangements compiled by an extremely intelligent trash-picker, whereas Harrison’s come off, in general, as trying to be provocative.

They’re Right Where You Left Them, A**h*le.

Another favorite of mine was an installation by Katrina Moorhead. This irritates me, as I’m pretty sure that Katrina insulted my outfit on opening night. Maybe she didn’t, but she’s got that foreign accent. Lord knows what that woman could have been saying…

Hey, her dialect fooled the entire Bluth family.

Moorhead’s piece, Tabletop Blue Rainbow. to settle an argument., installed in a dimly lit space in the Inman Gallery booth, was a bit similar in sensibility to Coolquitt’s in that it incorporated seemingly unrelated items, but the feel of Moorhead’s work was clean and quiet. If Coolquitt’s work seems orchestrated by a genius junk man, Moorhead’s suggests a calm, silent accountant or scientist. Despite outer chaos, this space was beautiful and orderly.

Don’t Be Fooled–

A worktable laden with objects as disparate as projection screens, crystals, and a magnifying glass, conveyed an unlikely air of serenity, order, and control.

It’s Just One Big, Beautiful Methlab.

Like many of the installations and sculptures I’ve seen by Moorhead, this one imparted a cool air of mystery. Her compilations of found and handmade elements (a simple watercolor drawing is hung behind the table, which is illuminated by a metal desk lamp) communicate elegance and beauty in what one would normally view as simply sterile items that have been coincidentally amassed. Don’t let those echoes of an IKEA display fool you!

Vincent Valdez of David Shelton Gallery, San Antonio

But my tastes don’t begin and end with collections of randomly assembled crap that could be irreparably damaged by a sugar-charged under-supervised two year old. David Shelton’s (San Antonio) dual space – one of which contained a beautiful exhibition of Vincent Valdez’ drawings of boxers — was exceptional. It’s not really fair to compare Shelton’s presentation with that of the other galleries, as few of them had the luxury of the double booth, but the work was very well-scaled for the space. The crisp, detailed charcoal drawings of tough but very human pugilists movingly cut through the sterility that works generally battle in an art fair booth. Prior to these drawings I had seen only Valdez’ colored works, which always reminded me of Da-Glo posters and didn’t impress. The monochrome in the current work eliminated that kitschy feel for me, and I was completely taken.

Unbelievable: an amazing installation with spray paint by Peter Soriano. Completely believable: an appallingly bad photo by me.

Another thing that I really liked about this fair was that it had a bunch of painting. Houston doesn’t seem to be a big painting town for some reason, although there are a lot of great painters here. Francesca Fuchs’ new works at Texas Gallery were delicate and pale, yielding a watery, reminiscing feel. Rachel Hecker’s large “Sorry We Closed” sign replica-painting was pitch perfect. The works of Marjorie Schwarz of Champion (Austin) caught my eye; there was a quiet domesticity in the small paintings, while her style demonstrated a kinship with Dumas, Porter, and Tuymans.

Marjorie Schwarz from Austin’s Champion Gallery

It was great, too, that a lot of paintings that one rarely sees in Houston were at the fair. Paul Thiebaud Gallery (San Francisco/New York–Paul Thiebaud passed away in 2010) had a few of his father Wayne Thiebaud’s amazing, juicily painted works on view.

Another thrill for me was stumbling onto Samuel Freeman’s (Los Angeles) booth, where I got to see a couple of real-live oil paintings by comic legend Martin Mull. I’ve been fixated on Mull’s work since I saw an abstract piece of his called Bad Dog, Good Carpet.

From Fernwood Tonight to Art in America

Like any other art writer, I’m biased and limited, and though I saw a great deal of abstract painting that was truly great, the canvas works that generally stuck with me often had a figurative, narrative, or comic bent. I dunno; blame it on an appalling amount of television. Something like that.

So Many Fond Memories of My Family of Ne’er do Well Grifters With This One

Sometimes you just identify with stuff. It doesn’t matter whether it’s bad or not, or whether you can even tell the difference. Take, for example, Tracey Snelling’s crude reproductions of seedy buildings. They reminded me so much of my youth I couldn’t stay away. One of them, a shack labeled Somewhere in Ohio, had Tom Petty streaming out of it. Another by Tom  Birkner called Heavy Metal really grabbed me. That’s me, age 12, over there on the right. A pack of Newports rolled up in your tube sock and Ted Nugent blasting out of a Trans Am. Timeless.

All That’s Missing is my Nazareth T-Shirt.

I also loved Ariane Roesch’s felt-covered shipping container, Going Undercover, next to the food court (well, it wasn’t exactly a food court). The container was so nice and dim and quiet inside, with a place to sit and a lot of fluorescent orange lines to look at. I was so tired I wanted to stay in there all day.

A Cool, Dimly Lighted Place to Scarf Your Taco Salad

And I’m really glad that Rice University Art Gallery brought Steven Keen back to Houston to do his live-action discount painting act for the fair.

What is WRONG With This Man?

My usual Pick the Worst Piece game wasn’t as fun as it was at the last fair; there just wasn’t that much that was so bad it stood out. I won’t bother to ponder what that says about contemporary art, but I’ll soldier on, providing a few to end on.

I Really Shouldn’t Even Dignify This Stuff With a Response

I hated the Ray Beldner works made out of dollar bills. I get it; we’re in a crisis. Terrible, obvious stuff. Shame on you, Ray, for making art out of something that could have fed a family of five!

Now if I Could Only Get the John Wayne Gacy Matching Comforter!

Those throw pillows with scenes of Jackie Kennedy trying to climb out of the car while JFK was shot, or with a pistol aimed at the viewer, were stupid too. Obviousness: let’s put these on the divan and get a titter out of the guests! A few years ago, Daniela Koontz transferred images of plane crashes on to those little airplane pillows. Now that was clever.

Just Because it’s Hard and Shiny Doesn’t Mean it Hasn’t Been Done.

That gigantic popsicle (and the popsicle sticks and the petit fours) with a Facto-Bake finish was also irritating – all the more since it seemed like I couldn’t get away from it! I’d try to exit the place and find that I was, once again, facing Dean Projects.

On the whole, it was an art fair. What can you say? But it was more like the ones I’ve been to in other cities than the first, and the galleries exhibiting work were, in many cases, ones that I’d go out of my way to visit if in New York or Los Angeles. It felt more contemporary, and the galleries from Texas more than held their own. I left predictably exhausted but unpredictably pleased. A world-class art fair with a cute little pony and a homemade saloon? Let’s do it again next year—at the rodeo.

–or at very least, dancing on it.“Tequila”




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Robert Ziebell October 26, 2011 - 08:16

I went to the art fair and all I got was a Glasstire t-shirt. In orange yet.

Mario M. Muller October 26, 2011 - 11:40

Great reporting! Got a real sense of the aesthetic landscape. Wish I could have been there.

HJ BOTT October 27, 2011 - 03:23

OMG! Laura, how depressing you can be. And you’re getting better at it as you savage your next subject. Yes, your local biases show but it only took you one quarter of the way to get into talking about your local favorites or any of the actual fair. You are excellent in your self descriptive discoveries.
Not much about the fair, but not much expected from your self-stated negativity. As Jo Ann Mattera says on her art blog, “Guaranteed Biased, Myopic, Incomplete and Journalistically Suspect.”
But, Laura, you are a hoot to read as you try to get into your subject, detailing the subjective dilemmas of writing while also being an artist. Wouldn’t miss any of your features just as I wouldn’t miss reading Roberta Smith splay those that are not her friends.

dfab October 31, 2011 - 19:54

Dear Houston,

I hate you.




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