In Fort Worth, from Murakami to Meta-ish

REVIEW | A summer weekend of art-seeing turns up five exhibits, large and small, that impress


While Facebook friends traipse through Europe delighting in their medieval churches and Renaissance masters, I hoofed it to Fort Worth recently to soak in some art.

First stop was the “Fifth Annual Artspace111 Regional Juried Exhibition” at Artspace111, juried by Christina Rees, editor-in-chief of Glasstire. The artwork featured in the smaller galleries gelled while Artspace’s rear rooms felt a tad hodge-podgey. No surprise there. Inherent in any exhibit of 82 artists is the buffet effect: Viewers, like diners, must learn to choose carefully.

One welcome thread that emerged is what might be call two-dimensional ‘media-about-media’ or perhaps ‘meta-ish’ art.

Lillian Young
Lillian Young, “Black twitter,” 2017. Oil on canvas

The mid-sized oil on canvas of a graffiti tagged electrical box by Michael Odom (2017) was both thoughtfully removed and funny; Lillian Young’s painting “Black twitter” depicted a Twitter feed highlighting George’s Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting; Michael Emerson’s “Urban Legends” featuring an ET Atari 2600 box, and even Carl Smith’s paintings of tax forms could fall into this category. I also liked “Boys Looking at an iPad” (2016) by Darla Barolini and “Texting Man with Cat” (2017) by Ron Crouch.

Speaking of animals, they popped up too. Cindee Klement used walnut ink and soap bubbles to represent that high velocity method a dog uses to eliminate water from its coat in “shake shake shake chocolate II” and William Billingsley offered a striking archival print photograph of a dog in profile (“Jill,” 2018).

Justin Korver’s installation, “We can just call them the hat pieces if that’s easier” stood out. Six gimme caps embroidered in bright colors were charming in their designs and intimate and personal in their qualities of handmade-ness and allusions to corporality.

Next I went by William Campbell Contemporary Art to see small but satisfying show of Eric Fischl’s work. Known in the 1970s and 1980s for his psychologically nuanced paintings of American suburbia, Fischl focuses on the figure, body language and relationships between people who are distinctly affluent, and distinctly white.

Now, however, Fischl’s familiar subjects engage in less than strenuous activities wiling away their time on the beach, walking with towels over shoulders or sunbathing under wide brimmed hats.

Eric Fischl, “Handstand,” 2018 Ed. 8/9. Pinned Mylar. Courtesy William Campbell Fine Art

And if his characters are not new, the artist’s methods and materials are. Beginning in 2011, Fischl amped up his collage practice and started experimenting with pinning mylars. Originally painted figures are digitally printed using heat transfer onto mylar sheets in a process called sublimation.

The same figure may appear in several works, but in different scale or grouped with other figures, subtly altering narratives. The artist’s interest in the physical translucency of his materials and the layering of them aligns with ideas about revealing or concealing vulnerable aspects of the psyche amidst family or friends.

Following this, “Multitude, Solitude,” the exhibition of Dave Heath’s photography at the Amon Carter Museum, delivered equally introspective yet quieter images amid urban backdrops and in black and white.

Heath, who died two years ago at 85, first gained attention with a 1963 exhibition and subsequent publication called “A Dialogue with Solitude.” Growing up orphaned and in foster homes, the photographer had a special sensitivity to feelings of isolation and alienation amidst a crowd. His prints owe a lot to the darkroom, resulting in strong compositions and remarkably poignant scenes.

Children haloed in light playing in an alley, a solitary woman in a dress, hands full of packages looking out at us wearily, or a working-class couple caught in an embrace from above; while taken in the 1950s and 1960s, Heath’s pictures hold onto their power today.

Dave Heath
Dave Heath, “Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956,” Gelatin silver print. Collection of The Nelson- Atkins Museum of Art. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum

Alone or together, in Chicago or in New York, unaware or catching our eye, Heath’s subjects exude a longing for human connection.

The show also featured portraits of Heath’s fellow soldiers during his service in Korea, and a body of work done with a telephoto lens captures faces up-close. While his images that are devoid of the context of the city lack a certain edge, anyone unaware of Heath’s breadth of work (as I was) will surely connect to something and be moved.

Leaving the cool museum for the hot pavement, I peeked into the Fort Worth Community Arts Center where I ran into Austin-based artist Madeline Irvine hanging her show.

On first glance the work appeared to be large scale monochromatic abstractions. Irvine clued me in that they depicted mangroves, a shrub and tree species and one of our ocean’s three buffer zones that help protect our coastlines and our climate. (The other two buffer zones are kelp and coral reefs.)

Rather than oil or acrylic paint, Irvine use sea salt crystals on black paper to create large white tendril-like plant forms. They’re vaguely calligraphic forms, unfolding in silhouettes and sweeping across multi-panel surfaces. Irvine’s 10-foot-high “Daphne and Apollo” (2018) conveys the upwards movement and drama of its namesake by Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. An 18-foot wide “Above and Below” expresses the idea of mangrove roots submerged and rooted in mud, that when exposed at low tide can breathe, exchange oxygen, and expel carbon dioxide.

The slightly sci-fi forms remind me of strands of hair or thread seen under a microscope, ethereal and translucent in places but with harder scaly edges sometimes.

Irvine’s work together with her message about the environment, reveals both resiliency and fragility. She has taken a lifelong interest in landscape painting and turned it into truly contemporary work that raises awareness about today’s climate change and the environment.

If you are annoyed by phone play in museums and galleries, prepare yourself before heading to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” is a (mostly) kid friendly, consumer-driven, summer blockbuster full of pop inspired iconography. The insta-popularity of this brand of exhibition challenged my most curmudgeony self. And it won.

Murakami founded the Superflat movement. His paintings and sculpture are bright, slick and inspired by Japanese pop culture genres, anime and manga. The cartoonish and commercial aspects of his work are appealing, but don’t overlook the traditional influences and social critiques. Superflat refers to several things: the flatness of traditional Japanese printmaking, the smooth surfaces of products and advertising, the flattening of high and low cultural distinctions and the atomic bomb’s effects on postwar Japan.

In 1993 Murakami invented an alter ego of sorts named Mr. Dob that had large anime type eyes and sharp teeth. The character changed in time, just as the artist did and is seen throughout the show. In “DOB in The Strange Forest (Blue DOB)” from 1999, colorful synthetic materials make a large-scale mushroom group encircling a happy Mr. Dob resembling Mickey Mouse wearing a bow-tie . (And by the way, this installation is cleverly aligned with a Henry Moore sculpture outside on the museum’s grounds.)

Around 2007 references to East Asian art history occur increasingly in the artist’s work. Murakami holds a PhD in Nihonga, a tradition-based form of Japanese painting made with brush and ink. Japanese folding screens, Chinese landscapes and handscrolls, along with Korean folk painting become influential.

After the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Murakami turned to a series of images of Buddhist monks called arhats. Arhats are enlightened beings tasked with helping people. Murakami avoids standard idealization of sacred figures, instead depicting arhats as misshapen and grotesque with gnarled heads and gaping toothy mouths. Amassed in all shapes and sizes they stand reverently facing us amidst a patterned wallpaper world.

The artist has been criticized for his large staff à la Andy Warhol’s factory or Jeff Koons’ studio. Murakami’s collaboration with fashion-brand Louis Vuitton and celebrity-musician Kanye West may have diminished his credibility in some minds.

But looking around at the selfie-taking millennial and post-millennial museum-goers, I couldn’t help but think that for them, the concept of selling out is probably a plus. Like the artist’s embrace of capitalism, a younger, digitally-oriented audience eats up the production value and super-bombastic scale of a Murakami exhibition. It is infectious and immersive and I guess if a smartphone helps such an audience actually experience the art, then the horse is out of the barn.So, enjoy it.

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Fifth Annual Artspace111 Regional Juried Exhibition will be on view at Art Space111 through July 28.

Eric Fischl: Pinned Mylars will be on view at William Campbell Contemporary Art through July 28.

Buffer Zone by Madeline Irvine will be on view at Fort Worth Community Arts Center through July 27.

Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art through Sept. 16.

Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is on view at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through Sept. 16.

Erin Keever
Erin Keever
Erin Keever is an Adjunct Professor of Art History, freelance writer, art historian and art appraiser. She lives and works in Austin, and serves on the Sightlines board.

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