Capsule Reviews

Concentrations 44: Matthew Buckingham, A Man of the Crowd Installed deep within the recesses of the Museums contemporary art galleries, Matthew Buckinghams video piece is an exercise in refracted perception. The piece consists of photographs and video in two adjacent rooms. The juxtaposing of somber black-and-white photographs and the pyrotechnics of video installation make an otherwise cloying and nostalgic piece interesting. The video installation takes place in a long, rectangular gallery where a loop runs, also in black-and-white, of two men perambulating through Vienna, one in pursuit of the other. Bisecting the space is a two-sided mirror that deflects and refracts the video projection onto the facing wall. Onlookers are intended to become pedestrians on the streets of Vienna as through bodily interaction your shadow becomes part of the piece. Basing the work on Edgar Allan Poes Man in the Crowd, Buckingham renegotiates timeworn and obsolete themes of alienation and urban life in the 20th century. The strength of this piece lies in performance rather than content--in the simplistic to-and-fro of film, human perception and the body roving through space rather than the fetishistic regurgitation of Poes classic. Through June 20 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 214-922-1200. Reviewed this week.

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 The show relies heavily on out-of-date terms and ideas--the works beauty, not to mention the genius of the artist.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.

Jesús Moroles: Rock, Roll, and Play Its confusing to enter a gallery space that invites you to touch the art. It is even more so when the space beckons you to make and destroy pieces as part of the show. The current installation at the Dallas Museum of Art created by the Texan-born and -based artist Jesús Moroles not only asks but requires that you do precisely that. Located on the cusp of the childrens space at the DMA and the large, triumphal corridor leading to adult art, the location of Moroles installation is befitting of its project in that it is somewhere between the two. On one hand, it asks adults to free themselves of the inhibitions that come with wisdom and age and, on the other, children to ponder the subtle beauties of granite and sound as though they were veterans of vast intellectual experience. For young and old alike, Moroles engenders art with a sense of play, designing two areas of the room--a zone on the floor and a cut-out space along the wall where one finds small pieces of granite that look like r-tinker toys--especially for building, destroying and rebuilding. The invitation to become artist for a moment is irresistible. Beyond that, Moroles sparkling wall of pink and gray woven granite, the two rotating cylinders--one diminutive and the other 10 feet high--and fish-shaped xylophones provide a lesson in the innocence and pleasure of guiltless body rubbing and touch. Through January 30, 2005, at the Gateway Gallery in the Dallas Museum of Art, 214-922-1200.

Turner and Venice If you love the city in idea and form, then this exhibition of work by the 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner is a must. Turners scintillating views of Venice do more than tickle the eye. These urban vistas transport you back in time to an earlier chapter in the history of abstraction within painting. With a total of 33 oil paintings and some 128 works on paper, its a vast showing of one old masters obsession with the miracles of a city built on water. The careful splash and daub of his brushstroke can be mind-boggling, but Turners watercolors might very well steal the show, especially the burnt umber gouache drawings of Venice at night tucked midway through the exhibition. Through May 30 at the Kimbell Art Museum, Metro 817-654-1034.

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