Arts : Truth is beauty, beauty truth

Sincerity tests the Keats adage with dogs and paper airplanes

In an age when contemporary art of the younger set is often marinated in cynicism and visual trends are sometimes dictated by market value, sincerity in art is an engaging notion. Houston-based Artl!es Magazine put notable curators, writers, and artists on the lost trail of the sincere in contemporary art practice, publishing one of its best issues (#49) in its decade-long history. Rachel Cook, curator of the Visual Space section for the issue, is a Volvo-driving crusader who traverses Texas’s major cities in order to connect them on the Texas art forum But for a truly sincere experience, art should be experienced face-to-face, so Finesilver Gallery put Cook in the kitchen.

Danny Yahav-Brown's “All the Oceans that I Have Ever Listened To” is on view at Finesilver Gallery.

Cook curated an exhibition for the gallery’s San Antonio location catalyzed by her magazine essay and seven accompanying pages of images. And, while the show presents no proof of an artist’s sincere intentions (what does that mean, anyway?), the result manages to raise questions and provide believable examples of sincerity.

One of the most intoxicating works in the show conjures a kissing cousin to sincerity (at least in this exhibition): Beauty. Katrina Moorhead’s “The Issue of the Nineties” takes the first page of Dave Hickey’s 1993 treatise, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty — now an essential cultural read — and turns it into an illuminated manuscript. Moorhead hand-copied the page on which Hickey describes being woken from a trance during a panel discussion and asked what the issue of the ’90s would be. Hickey blurted out, “Beauty!” and then took the ball, and a lecture circuit, and ran with it all the way into the 21st century.

By appointment
Through Jun 3
Finesilver Gallery
816 Camaron, No 1.02

Moorhead’s just-slightly-imperfect, handwritten script maintains the balance of a well-ordered page. Courier font is in-painted with a light cream filling of white gouache that lifts the figures from the celadon page. Hickey’s text contains lurching moments of boredom, reverie, disorder, and recovery, to which Moorhead’s visual treatment provides mellow contrast. One can see Hickey’s overall message imprinted on Moorhead’s work and confirmed by her recent Artpace exhibition with upside-down ballroom ceiling. Beauty seems to be a sincere mantra for her.

In contrast, one senses cynicism creeping into Danny Yahav-Brown’s works in the exhibition. His paper airplane, seemingly lodged in the wall, “All the Lies that I Have Ever Told,” is a folded hard copy of an e-mail he sent to himself this past Valentine’s Day. The viewer really can’t make out much of the text, so we have to take it on faith that this is a sincere effort at honesty — but the fact that it is taped to the wall rather than actually piercing it creates some doubt. So does his untitled c-print of someone pulling a finger.

Sincerity is rescued by cantankerous canines, however, in Bojan Sarcevic’s “It Seems that an Animal is in the World as Water in the Water.” The video records three dogs wandering alone in a Dutch church, enjoying the echoes of their own barks, and sniffing the (ahem) pews. After all the damage that religion has wreaked on the world, the personalities of the animals are refreshingly instinctual, motivated solely by curiosity. The video’s digital-sound component of organ music is marred by the conversion of a European program into an American format, but you get the drift.

There are several other interesting artists in this show: Will Rogan scores major points with his heartstring-plucking observational photographs and his personal obsession with a woman hit by a meteorite; Harrell Fletcher’s text explains how he avoided people in favor of “dogs, books, and cheeses” until he learned how to ask thoughtful questions; and two local additions, Karen Mahaffy and Andrea Caillouet, demonstrate how the show’s concept grew organically as Cook encountered their work. Overall, Sincerity explores an important theme with a thoughtful treatment, and even skeptics will be touched by something in it. Honest.