The Art Capades

“Napoleon with Issues or the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” one of Bettie Ward’s large embroideries on view at Southwest School of Art & Craft.
9am-5pm Mon-Sat,
11am-4pm Sun
Through Mar 11
Southwest School
of Art & Craft
Russell Hill Rogers Gallery
1201 Navarro

Noon-6pm Wed-Sun
Through Mar 18
Blue Star
Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star

Art Capades happily experienced a culture overload this weekend, the highlight of which was not Pink Martini’s appearance with the San Antonio Symphony — best described as “tired.” Crowd favorites such as “Dosvadanya, mio bambino,” and “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love” would be better appreciated cushioned by more new material. 

Or maybe not. A song billed as coming out this spring on the Oregon-born “little orchestra’s” much-awaited third album proved to be a draggy lowlight. The upside of that Latin-inflected piece was that our symphony, which often seems to be a split-hair slower than the tempo called for, was on the mark.

In the end, we were driven from our seats a little early with a “Rhapsody in Blue” hangover caused by Thomas Lauderdale’s interminable rendition of Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece. Pink Martini’s founder and pianist explored the limits of the song’s simple melody, proving in the negative that for long-form improvisation to work, you have to get far enough away from the core of the piece to surprise and delight the audience when you suddenly return to it — passive-aggressive irony, maybe, since the performance of this most American of compositions followed Lauderdale’s announcement that if he had to live in the States he might settle for San Antonio.

The visual-arts atrocity: While conductor David In-Jae Cho and Lauderdale rhapsodized in a flat line, a blue sky with clouds was projected on the stage backdrop. Thank God Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” wasn’t on the program; I prefer my giant wallflowers in a gallery.

As in Bettie Ward’s libertine and liberating embroidery show, The Marvelous Hysterical, on view at Southwest School of Art & Craft. On linens that have been emancipated from staid, proper lives as tablecloths and nightstand doilies, Ward explores Surrealist territory with a Teachings of Don Juan shamanistic bent that suggests transcendence of middle- and upper-class Anglo culture and Western sexual politics. Arching, undulating female torsos covered in flowers and filigree recline on cacti while men are half-clothed in various masculine uniforms and sport eye-catching phalluses. One title, “Napoleon with Issues or the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” which alludes to Luis Buñuel’s film masterpiece, reflects the dreamlike quality of the work, enhanced in turn by a contrast between the ornate, sophisticated flowers and the more primitive human figures.

Ward collaborates with Mexican needle artists to produce the finished “threaded drawings.” She sketches the images onto linens and sends them to her creative partners in San Miguel de Allende with thread samples and instructions. Sometimes the works are sent back a second time for further modification, and Ward adds finishing touches in her SA studio. The result is a stunning show that makes good on the promise of the fashionable “subversive craft” category. (And I promise you won’t enjoy penises in art more than in Ward’s imaginative hands.)

Lost and Found, a new group show at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, covers well-established territory with a survey of San Antonio artists who work with found or reclaimed objects. It features the usual suspects — Leonardo Drew, Henry Stein, Henry Rayburn, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Marilyn Lanfear — plus some less-exposed faces in this medium, including Andy Benavides, Beto Gonzales (whose work you can also see in this week’s Last Words, page 79), and Agosto Cuellar.

Despite the fact that the show seems to be organized by personage rather than affinity or some other content-based principle, it does offer interesting dialogue points: Leonardo Drew and Linda Pace work in monochromatic palettes, but where Drew creates catalogues of oxidizing detritus that, like Richard Stankiewicz’s reanimated scrap metal, seems to have lived a life of usefulness or even importance, Pace’s wall is an ambivalent monument to our plastic, throwaway culture.

A hallway filled with anthropomorphized plastic bags by Phillip Avila — ghosts, puppets, branch ornaments — makes a smooth transition from Pace to Cuellar. The proprietor of vintage-clothing store Jive Refried, Cuellar is skilled at turning cast-offs into objets d’artful consumerism — a talent that’s on display here with a grid of tiny plastic blenders filled with pairs of giraffes and plastic-airplane ear baubles.

Alejandro Diaz and Rome Prize alumni Franco Mondini-Ruiz use their repurposed objects to critique Anglo culture and poke gentle fun at Mexican-American assimilation with pointed visual quips, while Gonzales blows up Polaroids to enlarge Thomas Hardy-like pathos and dark humor in the everyday: an exhausted grandmother saddled with two babies; a child passed out with a bottle in a little devil costume — each in a setting that suggests the stressful fragility of working-class life.

Which really put Art Capades in the mood for a ragtime-manic version of “Rhapsody in Blue.” So there’s the source of paragraph one’s bitterness. Readers: take it with a grain of salt. Lauderdale: next time you come to town, please play in one of those “smoky clubs” your PR promises, and we’ll dance to your standards without complaint. l