Category Archives: Art

Mandala

I walk through the Museum District daily. The first year I watched the banners for coming attractions and was at some exhibit every weekend. After a time though they started to fade into the background as the novelty wore off and the day to day details took over. Friends visiting from out of town started to be my source of exhibit information.

But last week I happened to look up at the Asia Society banner and noticed Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery were coming to Houston to create a mandala live. A must see and definitely noted.

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I don’t know much about Tibetan sand art other than that it typically takes weeks and weeks of effort laying down one grain of sand at a time. And that it is, symbolically, healing and repairing for the surroundings; I suppose it more depends on whether you subscribe to Buddhism or Hinduism. I saw an already assembled mandala once in California. There I watched the closing destruction ceremony which seemed much more important to the monks and the onlookers than the art itself. In the destruction ceremony they removed, in a very specific order, all of the components of the mandala, placed the sand in a jar, wrapped it cloth, then deposited the lot into the Pacific Ocean.

The act was meant to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. Those kooky monks, they really get it.

Locally I watched the construction. Its fascinating to see if only for the patience these men have to load the sand tubes (chakpur) with one colored sand, scrape the side so the sand comes out almost one grain at a time into an intricate pattern. Then they unload the tube, load up another color then the process repeats until done. Luckily there were 5-6 monks working otherwise it would have taken weeks.

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San Antonio | Picasso Tapestries

Before you ask, no, I don’t have any photos of the tapestries but I did take a few shots of the Museum and grounds. The museum police were quite specific about the photography rules for this exhibit. Even when tried a stealthy phone shot I got the no-no finger wave.

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What’s happened at the San Antonio Museum of Art is amazing. Nelson Rockefeller loved both the modern style of Picasso’s paintings and the more medieval tradition of woven tapestry. Rockefeller commissioned 18 Picasso works including Harlequin, Girl with Mandolin and Three Dancers to be created as tapestries. Picasso himself worked with a French textile artist, Madame Jacqueline de la Baume Dϋrrbach, who wove each tapestry by hand.

A small photograph of the original Picasso is displayed along side each tapestry , the likeness is uncanny. Working with paint and brush is one thing, there is room for fluidity, ad-libbing brush strokes and even circling back when things aren’t quite what you want. But working with wool on a loom seems more restrictive. Also some of the pieces were 10 foot spans which had to be loomed separately then assembled. I tried to find some seam or other tell tale sign that the final product had been pieced together but not a trace.

Most of these pieces are usually hanging in the Rockefeller’s Hudson River Valley estate , Kykuit, and have never been shown to the public. You might wonder how they came be be displayed in San Antonio; a valid question. Nelson Rockefeller was an avid collector of Latin American Art and his estate donated art and resources to create San Antonio’s 30,000 square foot Latin America Art Collection. It is entirely appropriate for a city having 60% of its population with origins in Latin America. This set up a good working relationship between the museum and the Rockefeller estate which, according the the museum, is why the exhibit is hosted in San Antonio.

In any case, if you want to see the collection, visit San Antonio before the pieces go back to Kykuit on 8 March. The Museum grounds are interesting too, make sure to pop around back to see some stone arches from the 1930’s.

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San Antonio | Mano Factura

I was early to a family event in downtown San Antonio and luckily this outdoor exhibit was just across the street. It was the mosaic mirror covered piece that first caught my eye but I was too far away to make out form. Moving closer they looked like bunnies with standup ears. Closer still, peace signs atop some innocuous body. Standing directly in front of them, very detailed works of art.

These were created by artists in San Antonio’s sister city – Monterrey, Mexico as part of an ongoing cultural exchange between the two. Part message of peace connoted by form, however there are also other themes in the detail, like Dia De Los Muertos.

Definitely worth popping by Travis Park, should you be in downtown San Antonio before they leave on 5 March.

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Finding Vivian Maier

vivianThis Oscar nominated documentary, Finding  Vivian Maier was extremely interesting, well-organized and well-produced. Its the first of the nominated documentaries I’ve seen, so I’m hoping this level of interesting content and quality permeates the others.

Maier was a notoriously private woman who worked primarily as a nanny to buy herself time and situational access to her one passion, photography. She accumulated over 100,000 photographs in her life and from the very small sample I saw in this film, she not only had a passion, she had skill – crazy, bloody, undeniable skill. Composition, framing and playing with light to create very personal statements about life. Maier was not interested in the superficial, happy, glittered-up reality; she went straight for the jugular with visual precision and intensity, revealing the aspects of people often outside of the mainstream.

vivian2Maier’s work was not discovered until just before she died in 2009. Some tried to promote her work but the art ‘critics’ were not interested. Not until John Maloof, who also wrote and produced this film, used social media to create a frenzy of interest which still persists today. No better way to convince critics to accept talent than to show them they were wrong. Now Maier is considered one of the best street artists to date, posthumously.

There’s plenty of speculation in this film about why Maier never released her photos to the art world; some seemed far fetched and stoking the dramatic for generating commercial interest. After seeing the film, her work and reading a little about her eccentric behaviour, I have my own theory. She knew she was good but like all people who are outliers in their introverted cognitive processes, she just didn’t care what others thought, so she never sought out their approval. She was clearly not interested in monetary gain, rather I suspect she was an altruistic artist in the game for art’s sake.

Of course, that could just be me projecting my own personality on her. Or it could be me aligning myself with her since I too have a unusually large collection of street photos I don’t  share with anyone. In any case, its a more reasonable explanation than inferring a conspiracy theory about mental illness or dark family secrets. Occam’s Razor is still my favourite principle.

Some of the cameos, people who she photographed, filmed or lived with, are good and give insight into this unusual and talented woman. Others were just fluff, filler and hogging camera time for whatever reason.

In any case, I think everyone would find her story compelling, since outliers like Maier are interesting people who do their own thing whether its accepted by the mainstream or not.

Street Art | 2800 Main HTX

This used to be a Mental Health Building over a decade ago before a tropical storm flooded it and it fell into disrepair. Its been up for sale a number of times but still, here in 2014, it remains vacant. The street art on this building is not the stealthy variety that pops up in other neighbourhoods in Houston. It would be nearly impossible to be stealthy in an area with bar life that goes well on until 4am and work life that starts at 6am.  The building owners actually sanctioned the work. At least now its a little more appealing and the constant stream of street art tourists keep what used to be constant drug deals and prostitution in and around the building down to almost zero.

Almost, so please exercise some street smarts if you’re going to spend time here.

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Bolivian Art

“So, you’re a Mexican from Bolivia.”

The first time I heard a Texan refer to a South American as a Mexican I laughed out loud, it was too ridiculous to take seriously. But what I thought was a reference to South Park or some other 13-year-old boy humour was in fact, not. While the bulk of Texans are infinitely more sophisticated, there are still those whose geographical perspective is “Texas, Mexico and Other”.

Since there is no quicker way to piss off a South American than referring to them as Mexicans, I was careful to remember the country of origin for the artists displaying their crafts at this Dallas gallery showing – Bolivia.

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Living in Houston, which has a sizable Central and South American ex-pat community, I’ve had great opportunity to see art from those growing up in the regions. The Bolivian art on display had some of the same aspects: vivid colors, surrealist’s overtones, symmetric composure. I liked it. I really liked the orange and red piece dead center of the entrance to the gallery; it spoke to warm climates, casual afternoons of wandering conversations, no plans and order to chaos evolving naturally without intent.

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Then I saw the price tag, $20,000 and promptly moved the hell on. Galleries take a cut, but these pieces were well over 300% more expensive than comparable works. Loved the artists but their ’boutique’ prices were repellent.

 

 

 

Soto Houston Penetrable

Its interesting that I had already booked a night at the Museum of Fine Arts to see the classic noir thriller, Elevator To The Gallows, when Aunt in Austin texted me a picture of this exhibit also on view at the Museum of Fine Arts.

It was a 2-fer.

The exhibit was Jesús Rafael Soto’s final work from the Penetrables series. 24,000 small plastic tubes, painted to represent a huge yellow orb floating in a cloud of white, all suspended from the 2-story ceiling of MFA-H’s entrance.

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It’s a tactile experience so any two people are bound to have very different experiences. Entering the exhibit feels strange in the beginning, like pushing back small, weightless versions of bamboo, they click together when falling back in place, reminded me of someone stirring ice cubes in a glass of lemonade. Continuing, I felt like I do when flying into a cloud bank at 30,000 feet; its somewhat disarming to see vague shapes occasionally peeking through a medium which pleasantly obfuscates details. Sounds of the museum filtered through and since my vision was muted to their origins I focused more on those sounds. Looking up to the top of the exhibit from within reminded my somewhat of looking up to the sky during a rainstorm; a distinct sense of downward motion.

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If you have a chance to pop by before the exhibit leaves in September, do, I highly recommend, particularly if you have children.