“Ana Seranno: Salon of Beauty”
Rice Gallery

September 29 – December 11, try 2011

Ana Serrano’s “Salon of Beauty” romanticizes the urban environment with childlike wistfulness, medicine but retains a matter-of-fact honesty in an expansive replica.

The installation consumes Rice Gallery’s exhibition space entirely, order creating a condensed neighborhood. Buildings crest a little over the field of view, leaving dominating but inviting structures to be explored. Intense colors bathe every storefront and house, and nearly everything is crafted from paper or is somehow artificial.

Homes in the neighborhood imply a modest life, but reveal its residents’ identities. We understand one house to be inhabited by an urban gardener with hand-made cardboard tiles and potted plants resting on cinder blocks. Exploring the alleyway behind the house reveals climbing ivy espaliered against a wall to decorate a narrow corridor leading to the launderette. Imperfections included, there’s a psychology and feasibility to this neighborhood.

Serrano generalizes her buildings, but maintains subtle details like electrical boxes, satellite dishes, and weeds. This level of detail is uncanny when fully immersed, begging further inspection. Being made of paper, any pretense of believability is immediately shattered under a close look; doors are revealed to be blown-up prints, lines jagged in pixelation. However, more nuances appear once the illusion is broken.

Serrano uses pattern expansively; some of the buildings feature patterned courses below eye level, while others creep vertically into view. Ornamental bricks form fences that tickle the eye with two-tone schemes that change shape as the viewer moves around them. Rarely does any feature appear flat, instead pushing and pulling planes into view. Each building in the neighborhood has its own function, and cooperates to create an understood economy.

Serrano’s choice of businesses suggests a community either on the mend or in decline. Between the liquor and “98 cents” stores, there are beauty parlors, wedding shops, and a strip club. Some stores even have overpainting that suggests a remedied graffiti problem. This juxtaposition between wholesome and clandestine roles in society allows the mind to wander as much as the eye or foot. “Salon of Beauty” is aesthetically sensitive in its presentation of familiar neighborhood features, yet challenges notions of an idealized urban environment in delightfully garish glory.

Geoff Smith is a twenty-something arts enthusiast with a background in printmaking.


“Darryl Lauster: Timelines”
October 1 – November 29, 2011
Devin Borden Gallery

Darryl Lauster’s work has, for a number of years, concerned itself with American History and Identity, or as he terms it, “Americanness,” as defined by vernacular art, folklore, foundational narratives, and the institutions that reinforce them.”

Lauster’s exhibition, “Timelines” now on view at the new Devin Borden Gallery (October 1–November 29, 2011), narrows his focus to the history of the American South — pre-colonial era to the present — in a series of prints, maps, and a lone sculpture.

In these works, Lauster appropriates, fabricates and conflates the imagery, verbiage, and history of what is, and remains a very ugly American narrative. For example, the mixed media silkscreen “Ye Lie” montages auction advertisements for such “merchandise” as “a healthy, strong Girl,” 200 tons of ship timber and two new chaises; a sepia toned photograph of shirtless men planting corn in a field; two identical white boys, arms crossed, in what I have just learned, signifies an involuntary gesture of “self-confident to the point of arrogance;” 18th century typeface, writ large and proclaiming “ye lie” (think Sen. Joe Wilson, and the 1770 Boston Massacre trial): hand written in pencil the following phrases — “what price” and “jacktars/jackals;” and to top it all off, Lauster’s personal mark and symbol of the fictitious Samuel Gray Society, a wouldring stick (i.e. a kind of rope maker’s tool) adorned with a quiver of arrows and olive branch lifted directly from the National Seal.

Lauster says his imagery is “frequently appropriated out of content, [so as] to directly mirror the way political rhetoric is used today.  This is all very well and good, and in fact, important discourse, but I would not have understood this by merely looking at the work. I appreciate the artist’s expansive knowledge of history, and love his working process, but his creations at times fall short of the intellectual buildup. The best piece in the show is the one I know the least about — “Time Capsule,” a beautifully crafted replica of a Confederate ironclad, encased in a bottle, with a bite taken out of its center. (Think the former white majority, no longer in ascension.)

Beth Secor is an artist, writer, and educator. She also blogs for Glasstire, teaches at the University of Houston Downtown and Houston Community College Central, and assists with Development at Art League Houston.



“English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century”
September 17, 2011 – January 19, 2012

“Life and Luxury: The Art of Living in Eighteenth Century Paris”
September 18 – December 11, 2011
Museum of Fine Arts Houston

If you visit Rienzi between now and January 29, don’t go on an empty stomach. With a dining room ornamented in Rococo silver and outfitted in period plates — among them: a cooked hare (with hair!) and jellies shaped as playing cards — it’s hard to keep one’s hand to oneself.  But do — these foodstuffs are completely trompe l’oeil.

The faux meal is part of Rienzi’s “English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century,” which also makes use of pieces from the home’s internationally renowned porcelain collection in addition to a number of 18th century silver serving dishes and flatware. Some of these were specially acquired to complete the authentic 1769 dining experience, the year in which Elizabeth Raffald’s “The Experienced Housekeeper,” hit the press.

Touted as the Rococo Martha Stewart, Raffald’s seminal work on entertaining was written for ladies of Britain’s upper crust and serves as inspiration for “English Taste;” a signed first edition copy can be seen in the exhibit’s second room. Co-curators Ivan Day and Christine Gervais generate such faithful recreations of Raffald’s table, that visitors to Rienzi’s special exhibition (and first of its kind) could not be blamed for the urge to break bread then and there.

Sophisticated with a generous dose of British whimsy, “English Taste” is a visual feast and palate-pleasing delight for foodies, art lovers, Anglophiles and any with interests in lifestyle, luxury and historical fetes.

Those whose tastes are more continental may enjoy another offering from the MFAH’s current menu: “Life and Luxury: The Art of Living in Eighteenth-Century Paris” served at the main campus, now through December 11. Originating at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum, the exhibit offers a commensurately — if not exceedingly — opulent lifestyle recreation to that of its English sister at Rienzi.

At “Life and Luxury,” gold replaces silver and the porcelain painted with a far heavier hand. Expertly curated by Peter Kerber, Charissa Bremer-David, and Helga Auriche, the exhibit recreates a day in the life of an affluent Parisian during the reign of Louis XV.

Galleries mimic the progression of the day, from the morning toilette to the evening vespers. A combination of personal items, furniture, and scientific instruments arranged somewhat in situ — catalogued by use rather than type — recreate the intellectual fabric of the day and lends visitors an intimate view of the private lives of Paris’ Enlightenment-era elite. Especially effective are the portraits that accompany nearly every object shown, giving substance and context to the thing on display. Standout pieces include a lady’s gown and man’s suit, remarkably preserved given their age and fragility.

Zoé Belden recently moved to her native Houston from New Orleans, Louisiana, where she spent several years studying French, history of art and the art of living well.


“Texas Contemporary Art Fair” Houston, TX
October 20 – 23, 2011

Late October welcomed Houston’s second art fair this season, “TX Contemporary” at the George R. Brown Convention Center. On opening night cowboy cup margaritas, wide open spaces between white walls, and Glasstire’s live pink pony gave us away as distinctly Texan and proud of it.

As I walked through the fair I was assured of Houston’s status as a contemporary art powerhouse side by side the likes of California and New York. With a hint of friendly city rivalry LA and New York gallerists joked “Where are the people on the streets of downtown?” or “How do you get around without a car?” but overall I think they were impressed by Houston’s thriving gallery presence and were happy to return next year, come horses or cowboy hats.

Organized by “artMRKT” productions’ Max Fishko and Jeffery Wainhause and partnered with the amazing talents at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, “TX Contemporary” featured eight Houston galleries as our city displayed its best art on 12-foot tall walls and sprawling concrete floors.

Some of my favorites included Inman Gallery’s paintings by David Aylsworth, Sonja Roesch’s plexiglass pieces by Jonathan Leach, Sicardi Gallery’s minimal and abstract booth presentation featuring Latin American artists, Rachel Hecker’s “Sorry We Closed” painting at Texas Gallery, and Art Palace’s wide range of mediums including plastic bags and taxidermy.

Rice University Gallery and Blaffer Art Museum also engaged viewers with artworks ranging from five-dollar paintings by speed painter Steve Keen at the Rice booth to Blaffer’s domestic space inspired installation by Andy Coolquitt. Tied for the best Texas welcomes of the night were Wade Wilson Art, Exquisite Corpse Booksellers, and Moody Gallery whose bright smiles and open gestures ensured no one left the fair without a memory of Houston hospitality.

My favorite non-Houston gallery was Misako $ Rosen, a husband and wife team based out of Tokyo whose minimalist art and amazing personal style made me want to board a flight across the hemisphere.

On exhibition from Thursday night until Sunday late afternoon, even the last day of “TX Contemporary” was bustling with a steady crowd.

I approached Moody Gallery’s Betty Moody before walking out the door and she said with relief “It’s just been really fun! We’ve done well and had a great time.” As the last hour approached there was an excitement in the air like the last moments of a Ferris wheel ride — bittersweet to touch ground again. Despite the inevitable question of what lies in Houston’s art fair future what is certain is our city’s enthusiasm for art and artists. This growing contemporary arts destination has proven in just one fall season how strong this community is to bring such great artworks, gallerists, and local arts supporters together.

Flashback to 2010 and the Houston art fair was akin to myth, but like the elusive pink pony, our art scene has the ability to make myth a reality. Leave it to Houston, Texas and one way or another, we will make it happen and make it big.

Debra Barrera recently received her MFA from the University of Houston and is a local visual artist and writer. Originally from Texas, she reveres the dispersion of an independent spirit through creative processes.


“Mark Masterson: Under Repair – New Works on Paper”
October 1 – 28, 2011
Spacetaker Artist Resource Center  

Mark Masterson brings an exhibition to Spacetaker’s ARC steeped in 16th century style, but the egalitarian subject matter is both timeless and timely.

Working in the style of 16th century Flemish painter and printmaker Pieter Bruegel, Masterson editorializes and reworks Bruegel’s satirical compositions to create a unique voice that rallies against opulence and greed.

In 2009, long before Occupy Wall Street and satellite movements, Masterson quietly created a triptych that details the division between the (haves) and the (have-nots). The center panel “The Battle of the Strong-Boxes and Money Bags” is economic warfare incarnate; anthropomorphic treasure boxes and money bags are tangled in a war scene with their gold pieces spilling across the battleground. This is the starting point for an exhibition exploring themes including the healthcare crisis and housing market crash.

The majority of the exhibition is oil painting on folded and crinkled linen paper, which adds a sculptural quality that looks akin to a fresco rediscovered or a specimen recently exhumed. Valleys and ridges on the surface invite the viewer to examine the image from multiple vantage points. However, this uneven surface forces a break from Bruegel’s style, resulting in more generalized anatomy and gestural brush strokes. Masterson further emphasizes physicality in his images by leaving the edges of the paper exposed.

Masterson includes three lithographs in the exhibition, which allow the eye to rest and enjoy more subtle drawing and use of chine colle.

All of the lithographs were editioned with the assistance of his twin brother, Pat Masterson, at Burning Bones Press. In “The Big Fish Eat the Lil Fish,” the concept of the corporate ladder moves to higher levels of absurdity with peasants cutting house-sized fish open, allowing smaller fish to spill out from the incision. Masterson includes literal ladders that climb to surreal and indeterminate heights, and embellishes the quantity of fish in the landscape.

While one might consider “Under Repair” to be academic, or an artifact of an institution out of touch with today’s problems, the exhibition commands the older visual language to convey a message of once-quiet vitriol.



“The Barber of Seville”
October 21 – November 6, 2011
Houston Grand Opera 

Opening its 57th season with Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Houston Grand Opera, under the baton of Leonardo Verdoni, turns in a sparkling bel canto comedy. Count Almaviva (sung with gusto and acted with clever camp by tenor Lawrence Brownlee) is in love with Rosina (former HGO Studio soprano and Houston favorite Ana Maria Martinez). But she’s all but trapped in her Seville townhouse by her guardian Dr. Bartolo (the magnificent Patrick Carfizzi). What’s a pair of lovers to do?

Into this mix comes Figaro, the barber (baritone Nathan Gunn) to help the couple unite. A tale of mistaken identity and a clever battle of wits ensues.

Brownlee’s ringing tenor, lyric and lush, brings fine resonance and range, and a gifted acting ability to Alamaviva. His antics in Act II’s music scene are delightfully campy. Martinez plays Rosina with longing and sass. “Una voce poco fal” demonstrates her gift of rippling coloratura.

Gunn’s Figaro is part matchmaker, part maestro, as he works to bring the lovers together, performing Figaro’s famous” Largo al factotrum” with gusto and verve. And in a standout performance, Carfizzi’s Dr. Bartolo was hilarious and just this side of sympathetic by turns.

“A un dottor della mia sorte” showcases his strong bass-baritone and allows him to show perfect comedic timing. Director Joan Font’s direction allows his cast to tap into this comic opera’s heart, and Xevi Dorca’s choreography is genuinely fun. Combined with of Joan Guillen’s colorful, imaginative sets and costumes, which bring bright pops of green, pink, red and yellow to a minimalist setting, “Barber” becomes a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Making his HGO conducting debut, Vordoni leads the orchestra with grace, capturing all the happiness and comedic melodrama of Rossini’s score.

Holly Beretto is a food and culture writer who likes nothing better than an evening of great words and great wine.


“Yuja Wang: Recital”
October 10, 2011
Society for the Performing Arts

Pianist Yuja Wang is at an uncomfortable place in her burgeoning career and her recital for Society for the Performing Arts showcased the awkwardness that seems to be confronting this rising star. Fortunately, her playing has not suffered.

After a recent bi-coastal debate was sparked over a leggy orange dress she chose for an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl sadly, the first thing on my mind as I sat down in Jones Hall was not about her program, but about what she might be wearing.

With the added distractions of several loud cell phones, the persistent rustling of a bouquet of program inserts, coupled with Wang’s discomfort in relating to the audience and her esoteric program, it was difficult to enjoy her supple approach to a set of Scriabin etudes or her beautifully rhythmic yet lyrical approach to Prokofiev’s difficult war-era “Piano Sonata No.6.”

The second half of the evening was devoted to Franz Liszt’s lone sonata, and for this Wang was more than at home. second red and her presentation captured her approach to the music, elegant but with flair.

Chris Johnson is a radio host and producer, a violinist and a 2008 fellow of the NEA Institute for Arts Journalism in Classical Music and Opera at Columbia University.


“Dominic Walsh Dance Theater: 10th Anniversary Season Opener”
October 13 – 15, 2011
Dominic Walsh Dance Theater 

From ankle to head, every body part gets articulated in Dominic Walsh Dance Theater’s 10th-anniversary season opener at Zilkha Hall.

You couldn’t miss guest artist Stefania Figliossi, a fiery spark plug with an effortless six-o’clock arabesque, the contortions of a Chinese gymnast, and the most amazing feet I’ve ever seen. They are boneless. She gives the evening’s “voguing” the weight of Petipa.   In “Ho Messo Via,” from Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, Figliossi and Domenico Luciano swirl in sinuous abandon. She wraps her pliable legs around his lean taut body. Clasping his arms around her upturned butt, he deftly moves her out of the way. She extends her leg and caresses his forehead with her arched foot. She refuses to be ignored.

Set to Baroque arias, Walsh’s world premiere “Ancora lá” pays homage to famed 18th century operatic castrato Farinelli. Wearing socks and designer undies, Figliossi, Luciano, and Robert Dekkers elbow their way through a smoky semi-gay relationship. There are lots of six o’clock arabesques; Figliossi lifts Luciano’s head off the floor with her foot; he violently flicks her arms around him; Dekkers rubs his head all over her. What the hell does this have to do with Farinelli? Nothing, but it’s a fine showcase for Dekkers, whose easy masculinity eats up Walsh’s movement.

Former Houston Ballet principal Lauren Anderson makes a regal appearance in Walsh’s “Dying Swan,” his pièce d’occasion to Saint-Saëns iconic music. Wearing a dress slit up to Sunset Boulevard to reveal priceless gams, Anderson drips chic. At the bar she waits for her lover. With her back to us her arm does that “Swan Lake” undulation. Stood up? Who cares, she’s glamorous.

A winner at Ballet Austin’s Choreographic Competition, Walsh’s lighthearted “The Whistling” uses Cuban rhythms as backdrop for the company’s boogieing (Figliossi, Luciano, Dekkers, Emily McLaughlin, Todd Rhoades, and Allison Miller, a very smooth mover from Houston Ballet). The piece is filled with quirky movement: Luciano pushes down on his own head; the men lift their partners by putting their heads between the women’s legs; Luciano and Dekkers support Miller on their hips as she crosses her legs with insouciance. I haven’t a clue what any of this means, but it leaves you happy, if quizzical.

Two-time Lone Star Press Award winner for Arts Criticism, D.L. Groover writes about the stage for the Houston Press, OutSmart Magazine and Playbill.  He is co-author of Skeletons From the Opera Closet, an irreverent look at that loudmouth art form.


“Dividing The Estate”
October 7 – 30, 2011
Alley Theatre

The world has moved on outside the stately doors of the Gordon homestead in Harrison, Texas. Where there once was farmland, there’s now fast food and commercial kudzu. But inside, matriarch Stella Gordon is clinging to a time gone by and the old family name.

Thus is the setting of Horton Foote’s divine “Dividing the Estate,” a play demonstrating both his considerable talent for examining human behavior as well as his masterful way with words.

Stella (the magnificent Elizabeth Ashley, in an epic Alley appearance) has turned the managing of her house and grounds over to her nephew, Son (Devon Abner, who captures Son’s burden of pleasing multiple high-maintenance masters with aplomb).

She lives with her grown daughter Lucille (Penny Fuller, playing the role with light touches and a beautiful, faded Southern belle glow), Son’s mother, and her own son Lewis (the ever-incredible James Black).

Lewis is always asking for money from his share of his inheritance, and Lucille is trying to balance her mother’s wishes against her brother’s ne’er do well antics.

The choice for the cash-poor, land-rich Gordons comes down to this: divide the estate and parcel out whatever money may come of it, or keep it together. Since it’s 1987 and the Texas economy has taken a downward turn, this is not an insignificant question. Lewis wants it divided; so does his sister Mary Jo (perfectly played by Hallie Foote, Horton’s daughter), who wants her share so she can continue with her overspending lifestyle. Stella wants to keep it together; Lucille agrees.

How the family makes their decision and what they find out along the way — about themselves, about each other, about money — makes for an evening filled with tension, warmth and love. These are not easy characters to like. In fact, throughout the evening, they are downright contemptible.  But Foote’s always been a master at crafting multifaceted people, and in the hands of these actors, Foote’s characters evolve before our eyes.

This is surely thanks in no small part to the talents of director Michael Wilson, who offers the actors opportunities to be loud, brash, thoughtful and real. Scenic designer Jeff Cowie’s rendering of the Gordon family living and dining room is lovely, and Rui Rita’s lighting is icing on the cake. “Dividing the Estate” isn’t an easy romp; the questions is asks are challenging, even necessary. Its thought-provoking core is capped with moments of genuine comedy and pathos. Bravo to the Alley, for bringing this to life.



“Vault: ConTornTion”
September 29 – October 1, 2011


Whether ground bound or air borne, Amy Ell’s choreography spills its magic with a dynamic grace. Her latest batch of work, “ConTornTion,” performed by her troupe of daredevils known as Vault, took over DiverseWorks stage on September 29–October 1. Ell calls herself the mother of “Area Dance,” which she describes in the program as “dance in any particular extent of space or on any surface.”

Although trained in numerous forms of aerial dance, Ell reaches toward a more balanced approach, which is as compelling on the floor as in the air. “Continuum” begins with a cluster of red dressed women ripping batches of red fabric of themselves. Is it their past? Blood? A physical manifestation of pain? We never find out exactly, yet the atmosphere looms like a heavy, troubled cloud; not all is well in this world.

The always exquisite Dawn Dippel, fragile yet delicate, holds the tension, giving it form and meaning. Amy Cain, Richard Hubscher and Matt Dippel delivered powerful performances as well.

When a stoic blonde child circles the dancers on her tricycle, things get even more unsettling. It’s an examination of memory, harsh and torrid. The piece loses some its mystery when the little tyke returns one too many times.

The second half of the program, “Torn” takes to the air space, but in stages. Wearing rock climbing harnesses and looking like a batch of survivor contestants, the dancers take turns outdoing each other though novel lifts and acrobatic feats. Ell mines some wonderful partnering possibilities here, demonstrating the most developed choreography of the evening.

A low flying trapeze trio dwelled in lyrical floor skimming and flying into the airspace above the audience until they were suddenly yanked to the ceiling. Another trio partnering with the back wall proved the most meditative and risky. Although the evening included a strong showing of innovative choreography, use of space and outstanding performances, transitions seem wobbly, and at times, missing altogether. Sections start and stop abruptly as if we are done with that now, let’s do this. The end most exemplified this lack of cohesion. “Torn” doesn’t really conclude, it just stops.