Capsule Reviews

Our critics survey the local art scene

The Genius of the French Rococo: The Drawings of Franois Boucher (1703-1770) and Bouchers Mythological Paintings The unfortunate thing about the beautiful is that it is all too often intellectually bereft, shorn of historical specificity and just plain lacking in seriousness. To call something beautiful is a more elevated but equally empty way of saying that something is interesting. Wouldnt we all be better off with a new sense of beauty more in touch with the complexity of our own sense of existence? Even if were looking at drawings from the 18th century--say, those by the French artist Franois Boucher--shouldnt we be obliged to look at them through a frame concurrent with our own expectations? The current exhibition of Bouchers work--his cartoons, sketches and marginalia coupled with a set of six magnificently scaled mythological paintings--is proof that, far from being timeless and static, beauty by definition must anchor itself in the present. The problem with the current exhibition at the Kimbell is that it is too simple for our own moment. The show relies heavily on out-of-date terms and ideas--the works beauty, not to mention the genius (another term so bastardized to have become mere euphemism) of the artist. This is not to say that the precious flounce and fluff of Bouchers figures and ftes are not beautiful. Rather, it is to say that their beauty comes as much from their image and figuration as from the context from which they emerge. Culled from some 10,000 extant drawings, the pieces, while luscious in form and generously drafted, seem somewhat random. The viewer is left pondering the shared qualities of the zaftig female body in Recumbent Female Nude (1742-43) and the picturesque vista of Landscape With a Mill-Pond, Mill Bridge and Boy (c. 1750s). Such curiosity devolves into frustration as one is left wondering if there is any significance in Bouchers shift in focus from the typical imagery of the Rococo fte galante in the 1740s to the fragile rawness of peasant scenes in the 1760s. In a similar vein, willfully absent from the show is a definition of the term Rococo. It goes lost on the public that the term refers to the over-the-top curlicued interiors of 18th-century French aristocrats as well as a rising swell of literature and philosophy on libertinism and decadence. OK, maybe I am not being generous with the public sphere, not giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are sophisticated enough to know all of the ins and outs of the Rococo and, more profoundly, 18th-century France. Regardless, the show would be more meaningful if the images were presented as part of the rich and vast cultural tapestry of the early 18th century of which they were a part--a tapestry that served both as ground and philosophical seedbed for the revolutions, American and French, that were to follow. Voltaire, that beacon of Enlightenment aphorism and Bouchers own contemporary, let on that he understood well the complexity of beauty when he said it is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it. Not to suggest that Voltaire needs updating, Id nevertheless like to add that this is truly the case only as much as we feel and are affected as citizens of the 21st century. Through April 18 at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Metro 817-654-1034.

Jeremy Red: Winter Journal 2003/2004, Pierogi 2000: Selections From the Flat Files, C.J. Davis: New Work A delicious array of drawings and paintings are now showing at Conduit Gallery. Invariably, the three separate rooms of the greater gallery space inscribe a hierarchy that perhaps goes against the intention of organizers, as the best work is to be found in the deepest, most hidden space of the gallery. There one finds five rectangular fiberboard panels painted in 1950s public-school green by Texas artist C.J. Davis. Before entering the room, one sees an opalescent glass mug, half-full of milk and of the same color green. Revealing a roundabout sense of formalist skill and that Davis is keen on the pretty, the link between the paintings and the mug is color--retro color. The panels are shiny, tight and opaque except for a handful of small, almost vertical mounds that Davis has carefully made from drips of the same 1950s hue of green acrylic paint and then carefully dotted with white paint. Their bumpy landscape-like surfaces bring to mind a creature with one too many nipples. Youll also enjoy making your way through the heterogeneous and precious array of drawings shipped in from the Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn in the opening room and the cheerful bombast and juvenile self-indulgence of Jeremy Reds paintings in the next. Through April 3 at Conduit Gallery, 214-939-0064.

Censored and Sanctioned: Soviet Art of the Cold War 1956-1986 In its seventh of eight proposed phases of exhibition, Censored and Sanctioned: Soviet Art of the Cold War 1956-1986 feels more like a show geared to educate rather than to proffer artistic delectation. The show is concerned with bringing home the misperceptions Americans and Russians dealt with during the Cold War to a mass audience (the question: Does one exist in Abilene?) than pushing the envelope by way of new artistic form and experimental media. Perhaps an inevitable side effect of putting together a show at once historical, political and aesthetic is that a certain brand of dogma-lite has won out over actual art, making for a pallid, if not benign, form of curatorial censorship. If the show may not present us anything tragically hip or new in the way of artistic invention, it does make for a bizarre, hidden event in a small town. As such, Censored and Sanctioned distills one quality that is quintessentially American--that we are a country of extremes. In what other space-time continuum would you find a show devoted to an almost broad-minded comparison of the shared cultural pathologies of the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War smack-dab in the middle of a landscape where your choice of radio stations is limited to country music, right-wing talk radio and white-boy rap? Through March 27 at the Grace Museum in Abilene, 102 Cypress St., 325-673-4587.

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