Visual Arts The art capades

Unusual exhibits and a runway show take aim at the fashion canon

Where the Impressionist flowers grew (amidst Constructivism and social repression): "Lilacs," a 1950 oil painting by Piotr Fomin is among the dozens of works on display in the Greenhouse Gallery's Russian Impressionism exhibit.

This week, my happy trails led me to some mixed-up places, but the chaos was at least interesting. I started out at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art, which is not one of my usual haunts, but it's all the rage with the Coppini Academy realists.

Greenhouse Gallery's Russian Impressionism (2218 Breezewood, 828-6491) features paintings from Russia. Many of the artists studied at the Repin Institute, named for Russian Realist painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930). When I first began looking at the works I was impressed - they seemed like masterpieces from 100 years ago. I was sent into a time warp as I realized the works dated from the second half of the 20th century. The fact that Social Realism and Soviet governmental standards clamped down on artistic freedom, which created this world where Impressionism is frozen in time, made an impact.

The main subjects are nature and changing seasons. Even the human subjects prefer outdoors: snow skiing, singing, reading, or gathering fruit and flowers. While the Russian soul is famously tied to the country, I can't believe that everyone was this content. One artist, Piotr Fomin, had something extra - an axe to grind in his color and gesture that cut through some questionable happiness.

Just down the street was another world of remarkable contradictions. Taisho¯ Chic at the McNay Art Museum (6000 North New Braunfels. 824-5368) is unlike any other show you'll see; its work is such a specific example of East meets West. You know how Japanese youth has out-Westernized us? Imagine that kind of thing happening in the glamorous 1920s. `See related story, page 15.` Taisho¯ Chic is about Japanese women becoming modern. You have to read these works like Dutch still lifes because we take painted fingernails, permed hair, and bare ankles for granted these days. Back then, however, such details made staunch statements about Japan, and in particular, Japanese women, opening up to the world.

If you love nostalgia, you'll squeal over the atomic-patterned kimono. Also spot the hand fan showing two film starlets up to their bare shoulders in water. It's an advertisement for Jintin breath mints that pharmacies used to give out. Another weird and wonderful piece is a two-panel screen by Shibata Suiha from the 1930s. It shows a woman with marcelled hair (a deco-era permanent wave) playing the biwa, an ancient instrument. Now, notice the microphone recording her at the edge. It's biwa unplugged!

Speaking of chic, I went to a fashion show on Saturday night that was a real art happening. A super stylish crowd turned out at Webhouse Café and Bar to see designs by Jive Vintage's Agosto Cuellar and Matt Therrien `see "Reinvintage is the word," November 24-30, 2004`. They call their works "refried," which means they take funky vintage pieces, dissect them, and recombine them into something marvelous. They use ties, Ghostbuster T-shirts, screen-printed coffee advertisements, and lots of luxe in their designs, most of which could easily be worn. Original music by Rarefaction Collective accompanied their show, as well as a 'zine program. One statement scribbled inside says, "Follow your dreams scary," which shows how much they love what they're doing. It's contagious.

By Catherine Walworth