All's well that ends well

Texas hasn't followed art trends in the '90s -- and that's A-OK

Whistler throws in a smattering of works born through the decade. Skeet McCauley's panoramic photo "Barton Creek Golf Course, Austin, Texas" from 1992 may be far more critical than its idyllic lushness lets on. This vast, hazy beauty is, after all, artificially cultivated -- man's way with pillaging nature to create some creepy, Orwellian über-landscape. It could be a loving portrait of a Welsh or New Zealand countryside, if those skinny flagpoles, spewing sprinklers, and manicured little trees didn't interrupt the dream. What forest was razed to make room for this white-collar conceit?

Texas as a subject is, of course, on display. Texas artists are understandably mystified and fascinated and repulsed by their home, so swollen with myth and legacy and a diversity of terrain and characters. Bob Wade drives home his homage most directly with "Cowboy Band," a truly charming photographic portrait of what looks like a circa-1930 western horn-and-drum ensemble, hand-colorized and steeped in iconography, and in his "Art Goin' Down," an acrylic-on-photo-linen shot of a bucking bronco ditching its rider. The horse's dust-kicking action is such crystallized violent energy that it looks like a still from a Sam Peckinpah film. The incredible Ann Stautberg takes a more muscular yet winsome approach to Texas in her hand-colored photographs, those breathtakingly ominous and epic portraits of the Gulf Coast shoreline that seethe with lowering skies and briny sunrises.

Houston's Art Guys, a comedic jewel in Whistler's crown, are of course represented here -- this time with their 1999 piece "Bonded Activity #55," a 7-foot-tall skyscraper made entirely of sharpened pencils. Its shape deftly evokes a stacked and layered Art Deco monolith, a la the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Adjacent is the equally tall, framed, schematic architectural drawing of the pencil tower, laid out with droll perfection and punctuated with a Walt Disney-esque stencil "Welcome," as though this structure is as good as realized and as functional as Rockefeller Center.

Looking at Bob Wade's "Art Goin' Down" is kind of like watching The Wild Bunch.
Looking at Bob Wade's "Art Goin' Down" is kind of like watching The Wild Bunch.
Looking at Bob Wade's "Art Goin' Down" is kind of like watching The Wild Bunch.
Looking at Bob Wade's "Art Goin' Down" is kind of like watching The Wild Bunch.

Details

Through January 22
Barry Whistler Gallery,
2909-B Canton St.
(214) 939-0242

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Perhaps the most un-regional -- and, therefore, crossover-like -- pieces in the show are by the young Ted Kincaid and veteran John Pomara. These artists have such a sharp sense of abstract, aloof cool that you might put them on an art-world VIP list that includes such '90s darlings as Gary Hume and Karin Davie. Kincaid's strange and vibrating orbs line up across a receding sepia-toned space on a photographic surface that gives away nothing of its process. Pomara's slick and satisfying row of whitened aluminum panels are cut by streaks of black and green that communicate pure velocity as they swoosh across the wall. It's abstract art for a new era, sidestepping anything obvious or cloying or datedly decorative. Pure art, perhaps as Stanley Kubrick might have idealized it.

But this is not reactive art; none of it is. Again, Texas seems oblivious to such movement. So while the nation shakes and moans over Sensation, the young Brit art show launched by ad-mogul Charles Saatchi and recently aggravating these shores, we have to wonder whether the Brooklyn exhibit's thorough and deliberate grouping of such high-maintenance, shrill work heralds the end of a cycle. Will the coming decade bring about more nuanced, mild work, more gentle boundaries, more classic forms? Texas artists sure don't care. They just do what they do, despite what's going down everywhere else.

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