Cactus Bra, Three Walls, and R.E.M. deliver in an off-month First Friday

June often suffers from a lackluster First Friday, as the summer heat conspires with anticipation of July’s Contemporary Art Month blowouts to dampen the usual revelry. This June’s art crawl had to compete with yet another conspirator: the eagerly anticipated grand opening of the McNay’s new Stieren Center. Many of the big First Friday draws didn’t try to fight the inevitable. UTSA Satellite Space was closed; Blue Star showed Arte Latina and Goin’ Mobile for the third month in a row (along with a group student show in the tiny Gallery 4, which apparently didn’t warrant a mention on its website); and Joan Grona didn’t bother refreshing her exhibits, either.

Still, the smaller, artist-run spaces offered a few treats that were worth the trek down South Alamo. Cactus Bra featured an installation and performance by Julia Barbosa Landois that comments on the complex relationship between religion and the body. For this show, called Veiled in Flesh, the artist draws heavily on Catholic imagery: Wearing a black dress, she laid silent and motionless in a glass vitrine. Three small mice crawled over her body and under her dress as she peered through the glass at onlookers. The rodents are a reference to San Martin de Porres, who is often depicted with mice at his feet and a broom in his hands.

Cleanliness is also a prominent theme in the installation, in which the artist placed several rows of oil lamps made with jars from an all-purpose cleaning product, installed in a way that references votive candles. Two assistants periodically cleaned the glass box with a spray glass cleaner. The performance itself was edgy enough to draw interest and create tension without crossing into shock-tactic territory.

A series of photographs and video stills tacked on the walls around the gallery are not as strong as the central performance. These images, with the feel of snapshots, weave Christian imagery into a domestic setting: a photograph of feet with Band-Aids suggests stigmata, an out-of-focus child holds up a wafer. The casual composition and informal installation of these images undercuts the ceremonial weight of the rest of the show, but Landois succeeds in drawing attention to the physicality of faith, and the tension between personal and communal experiences within the church as they are reflected in a consumer society.

Next door at Three Walls, Rhonda Kuhlman is showing a series of medium-sized woven pieces. Using fabric repurposed from thrift-store T-shirts, Kuhlman created pieces that resemble nothing so much as the brightly colored pot holders children weave as craft projects. Her work is distinguished from these childhood throwbacks by more than scale, however. The interplay of color gives Kuhlman’s new works a kind of psychedelic vibration while maintaining an economy of materials and form. Kuhlman, who runs the R.C. Gallery, is known for using recycled materials to create whimsical work that refuses to acknowledge boundaries between functional, decorative, and formal art.

R.E.M. Gallery, in its new location above Blue Star, mounted collections of new works by two artists: Johnny Robertson in the main gallery, and Cody Bustamante in the loft. Robertson paints landscapes that somehow manage to feel disembodied and placeless, even when you know the exact location the image is drawn from. Loose, washed-out depictions of desert plateaus, Las Vegas signage, and other fragments of a mythical America populate Robertson’s work. Despite the concrete reality of the places represented, broad passages of these paintings are purely abstract, whether the image is floating in a color field or the sky takes up three quarters of the picture plane. Robertson seems to be playing with notions of collective memory and cinematic reality.

Cody Bustamante’s work matches the groundlessness of Robertson’s paintings, while simultaneously providing a striking stylistic contrast. Creatures that seem to have emerged from the collective unconscious float in fields of white, calling to mind a very different type of mythology than that expressed by Robertson. These black-and-white drawings, made with crayon, charcoal, and acrylic on paper, call to mind intricate Chinese dragons, although Bustamante references medieval and pre-Columbian monsters in his artist statement. Kudos to Cactus Bra, Three Walls, and R.E.M. for showing that even on an off month, First
Friday can still dish out some goodies.



Veiled in Flesh
By appt.
Through Jun 20
Cactus Bra
106C Blue Star, Bldg. B
(210) 226-6688

Rhonda Kuhlman: Comfort Art
By appt.
Through Jun 27
Three Walls Gallery
106D Blue Star, Bldg. B
(210) 219-1562

Johnny Robertson:
A Little Look
at the Big West
Cody Bustamante: Concretions
Noon-6pm Fri & Sat,
& by appt.
Through Jun 28
R.E.M. Gallery
120 Blue Star, Ste. 1
(210) 224-1227


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