Arts The art capades

Downtown, everything's waiting for you: Magritte, African-American scions, sleek industrial design

When planning to visit art shows on your bike, the shade of downtown's tall, classically beautiful buildings is inviting. This week I went looking for art in and around the city's center, where San Antonio's choicest architecture could be my aesthetic pitch whistle.

I checked my bike with the valet at the swanky Hotel Valencia (150 E. Houston) and tried to revisit Anjali Gupta's group show Peel Sessions at the Citrus restaurant. Unfortunately, it had inexplicably closed weeks early. For those who didn't see it, Gupta challenged a handful of artists to make pieces with or about orange peels. There wasn't a scurvy piece in the show, and outstanding contributors included Joey Fauerso and Gary Sweeney.

Across from the hotel is the IBC building (175 E. Houston, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon-Fri), built onto the façade of the historic Texas theater, whose standalone box office remains. Large windows invite you into the SBC Gallery exhibit Common Ground, featuring works from 12 African-American artists drawn from the company's collection of 20th-century American art. The Carver Cultural Center and SBC collaborated on the show and turned it into a prime learning opportunity. Students researched the artists and wrote critical essays, which are displayed beside the works they describe. The students' brutal honesty is one of the shows great strengths. "I must admit that at first I felt the abstraction was horrible and I wanted to see no more," wrote one. You can tell when they were mulling over received wisdom that felt about as right as a glass slipper on a stepsister, but the young writers found their own fresh, insightful takes on the objects.

The works themselves are by significant artists, including Sam Gilliam, Carrie Mae Weems, Romare Bearden, and my favorite, Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence and his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight, passed away in the last few years. I got hooked on Lawrence in Seattle where his work is always on view somewhere in the city. His style is cubist, but the kind that resists the whims of fashion. He created formal wonders of energetic color and composition, while depicting socially important themes. His gouache painting on view here, Builders in the City, offers several lessons for the artist who wants to see a master at work.

The San Antonio Museum of Art (200 W. Jones, 978-8100), a castle-like former brewery, is currently exhibiting a smallish but important show of works by René Magritte. Curated by Allison Hays Lane of Houston's Museum of Fine Art, Magritte: A Surrealist's Eye combines works from SAMA's collection and objects on loan from Houston's Menil Collection. A Belgian, Magritte's work related so well to what was happening in France's mid-century cultural climate that he was adopted by surrealists and philosophers who were debating signs, signifiers, dreams, and the nature of reality. On view are lithographs after his 1950s mural series for a Belgian casino, as well as paintings inspired by Giorgio de Chirico and a complete portfolio series. Classic bowler hat, ships at sea, "This is Not a Pipe" Magritte is also on view here and it is visual poetry.

A stone's throw over Broadway is Robert Diaz de Leon's Flux II at Scheibel-Richardson Gallery (626 Avenue E, 228-9921), an understated home-turned-architectural firm across the street from Bettie Ward's colorful studio. De Leon is a craftsman with metal, stone, and wood. His pieces are functional - chairs, tables, and lamps - with clean, sharp lines and immaculate finishes. The coolness of the old limestone house accentuates his chic industrial style, altogether contrasting with the Texas heat like pickled ginger after wasabi. After sitting in a chair of perfect proportions, my bike seat became suddenly unappealing.

By Catherine Walworth

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