The Art Capades 

It’s possible it was a premeditated, orchestrated moment — and even likely that Art Capades’ critical faculties were softened by the press equivalent of cheesecloth over the camera lens (lunch at at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, including champagne, to announce the imminent arrival of The Masterpieces of French Painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800-1920 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston). But it sure sounded sincere to me when MFAH power Director Peter Marzio casually dropped the word “transcendent” — as in, MFAH hopes that visitors have a transcendent experience when they stand before Van Goghs, Cezannes, and Monets, illuminated as never before with diffused natural rays (to bring out the full color spectrum) and manmade yellow light (to preserve the depth of contrast). Of course, for a museum with a $50-million annual operating budget, hope is not a method, and I promise to hold MFAH to the “transcendent” standard when Art Capades visits the exhibit in early February.

Meantime, we can practice interrogating the sublime in humbler environs thanks to Eduardo Daniel Rodriguez’s one-man show at Joan Grona Gallery. Rodriguez’s large oil paintings swallow the room, inviting you into atmospheric abstract landscapes dominated by a single luminous color or benignly ruled by pleasing contrasts between earthy blues and lavenders and ethereal rusts and greens. His painting language — giant loopy scribbles over color fields —
doesn’t do much for my pre-frontal cortex, but I do love the palettes.

While Rodriguez ushers you into infinite fields of visual play, Carol Benson’s oil and encaustic paintings, hanging in Grona’s middle gallery, erect puzzling barriers that leave viewers feet planted firmly on the cement. Flesh-toned surfaces marked with abstract stigmata and tattoos emphasize the brush strokes while concealing intriguing aqua, red, and pink underpainting — which makes it tempting to compare these human-scale canvases to the Artful Dodger in each of us. Food for heart and mind.

The same can be said of Adrien Carin Ryder’s fabric sculptures, on view at UTSA Satellite Space. If you hold with the scholars who place the advent of feminist clothing art in the 1960s with Mimi Smith and her contemporaries and not with the first women who raised dress hems out of the disease-carrying muck or donned a pair of pants, you might find the whole idea of fashion-based commentary a little tiresome. But Ryder differentiates her work from her predecessors and her contemporaries by combining abstracted prints that look like enlarged tissue and blood vessels with gauzy shifts that wouldn’t be out of place on the Amazon isle of Linda Carter’s mid-’70s Wonder Woman. Sobering things up are embroidered aberrations in toxic-looking greens and yellows, and long threads of red that flow to the floor.

Just when you feel you might be consumed by mortality-driven introspection, Erin Guy’s abstraction of an abstraction will pull you into the next room, where desert-hued camouflage seems to be drifting heavenward piece by piece. This wall-size installation is strong enough on its own to provoke questions about our use/misuse, representation/misprepresentation of nature — but there’s no harm in Guy’s accompanying watercolors, just a lovely dilution.

As much as I crave the transcendent aesthetic experience, I’m also a mere mortal who likes the tactile sensation of rocks in a pocket, and so back to Joan Grona for the bargain of the month: Paula Cox’s resin-covered wooden linocuts of dogs, tiered cakes, and dolls — a steal at $100. Made to extend from the wall like giant refrigerator magnets, or homemade Fiesta medals, they are resolutely human-scale, earthbound, and appealing.



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