LAST-LOOK: ‘… A POINTY TOE BOOT UP THE BACKSIDE’ POST-ABSTRACTION FROM HOUSTON

Sharsten Plenge reviews …a pointy toe boot…

Houston. The largest city in the southern US and trailing just behind Chicago, New York, and LA as the fourth most populous in the nation. The same can be said for Houston in its trailing— or often oversight— as a major contemporary art center rich with prestigious institutions and brimming with emerging luminaries. Like LA, Houston has a geographically sprawling art scene colorized by exceptional private collections and has long predicated opening new grounds for display. Alternative and temporary spaces— from those staged atop a Holiday Inn to mobile micro-cinemas in Toyota Scions— to outsider and site-specific projects— like the The Beer Can House or the sculptural notsuoH club— are hallmarks to be revered. In my time realizing projects there, I was [admittedly] surprisingly whoa’d by the level of experimentation and diversity colliding within this fabric of creators. Unlike NY and more akin to LA— at least on some level— Houston appears more gray than black and white in its lack of wanting to appeal exclusively to the elite collector or distinguished director over also attracting the interest of the artist curating stellar shows in their apartment. They seem more involved and mutually acquainted— simultaneously engaged in an elastic paradigm for making, viewing, and thinking about art.

This conversation between cities and growing artscapes is the subject of an immaculately tailored group show currently up at Wilding Cran Gallery.  Curated by globally established and internationally dwelling artist Christian Eckart, ‘…a pointy toe boot up the backside’ Post-Abstraction From Houston presents a bouquet of Houston-based talents traversing the progressive vernaculars of post-abstraction. So… what the hell is ‘post-abstraction’? We can speculate this to reference the title of Clement Greenberg’s 1964 exhibition Post Painterly Abstraction— a group show traversing topographies, first premiering at LACMA and traveling on to the Walker Art Center and the Art Gallery of Toronto. Nowadays more aptly substituted with ‘hard-edge,’ ‘lyrical abstraction,’ ‘color field,’ and/or ‘minimalism,’ the term was coined by the notorious art critic to describe a new painting movement that ‘favored openness and clarity’ over pervading 40-50’s Abstract Expressionism.

Like Greenberg, Eckart highlights painters that depart from a return to the past— in this case ‘formal abstraction and its plastic vocabularies’— to dematerialize and reinvigorate ‘traditions with contemporary energy and timely inventiveness.’ Assembling ten artists and twenty works, Eckart’s selection draws underlying values and shades in an ‘effort to open lines of communication’ between LA and Houston. At first glance, parallels in palette, scale, and form spill into each other so seamlessly it can be difficult to differentiate between names. David Aylsworth’s vibrant rouge echoes in Paul Kremer, where diligent digitization accentuates matte horizons. A marriage of irregular forms with lattice myriads repeats in the impeccable linear planes of Aaron Parazette and Susie Rosmarin. The latter’s Op Art sensibility morphs into analog formulas bent and oscillated within a trio of porous surfaces by Tad Griffin. With ‘post-abstraction’ summoned as subject here, Joe Mancuso is best described as ‘post-Monet,’ where layers of latex and newsprint converge into muted landscapes. Sharon Engelstein’s sculptures are the only pieces to depart the wall within this two-room exhibition— instead landing as a quad of post-Duchampian hybrids placed on styrofoam pedestals.

With a title ‘framed by an irreverent tongue-in-cheek imperative,’ Eckart seeks to strike a ‘continued productive exchange between LA and Houston.’ He cites how ‘cultural centers exist in tangential dialogue …. often inform[ing] each other’s histories and practices.’ A sensibility for how and which ‘cultural centers’ create the market and foreshadow a shift from a ‘import only model’ (Houston) to an ‘import and export model’ (LA), takes form in a more intellectualized ‘tongue-in-cheek’ reference to James Turrell. The LA Light and Space master reminded everyone of Houston’s prominence as an art destination last summer when LACMA’s retrospective made its second stop at the Museum of Fine Arts. A Turrellian grasp for capturing ambient ephemera is seen in the geometric shapes hovering in the painted projections of Brooke Stroud.

Together, this selection relays a thoughtful, yet narrowed, survey of artists working to similar ends. A pool which is refreshingly different from LA, where an attention to formality is favored over a leniency towards a more cutesy abstraction of gestural architectures. What would strengthen the dialogue Eckart stands to wage, however, would be an elaborated two-city cross-pollination where perhaps this show travels to Houston and is followed by a similar iteration highlighting all LA-based artists or interweaving them within another relocalization. Eckart is known to be a man of two-cities in the past— previously based between NY and Berlin, then NY and Amsterdam— so we can hope this is only a precursor for a more open communication between two hubs inscribed with immense potential for growth, expansion, and congregation.

…a pointy toe boot up the backside’ Post-Abstraction From Houston features works by David Aylsworth, Sharon Engelstein, Tad Griffin, Geoff Hippenstiel, Paul Kremer, Joe Mancuso, Marcelyn McNeil, Aaron Parazette, Susie Rosmarin and Brooke Stroud. Closing with reception Saturday, Nov 7th 6-8pm. Regular hours 11am-6pm Wednesday-Saturday.