A R T   L E T T E R

The Timely Magazine of Art

#35 <previous/ next> Artletter index August 15, 1996

Balloon Modernism: Paperboy, corner of Studemont and I-10

A rectilinear monument in welded steel, incongruously painted with blue and yellow balloons on
the West side of Studemont overlooking the White Oak Bayou. The huge bulky concrete base
suggests that this was once a very tall billboard post which was cut off and remade into a bland
modernist sculpture. For years the piece was was painted white, conforming to one's expectations
of modern art, until an unknown genius in late 1994 postmodernized the piece by painting it with
a pattern of floating, illusionistic balloons. The bulbous balloons form a loose pattern of polka
dots in sharp contrast to the severe geometry of the original steel form. Both form and painting
are uninspired; it is the combination of the two which breaks new conceptual ground.  This
startling clash of styles seems unintentional, the piece has a straightforward function as a sign
advertising the balloons for sale at the paperboy store.  The painter shows "a fine disregard"  for
the niceties of modernist sculpture, creating a stimulatingly odd blend of fine art and commercial
signage. The piece innocently crosses boundaries between art and life few contemporary artist
would dare to transgress. The piece raches its height at Christmastime, when the paperboy
management wraps it in multicolored lights, as if it were some cubist Christmas tree.-B.D. 

Psycho Pueblo: Castle Dental Center, 2120 West Loop North 

A dental office in an old Mexican restaurant by the freeway. Three different aesthetic layers are
abruptly superimposed on one another with a refreshingly bizarre unconcern for integrity of
style. Layer one is pure function: a cement, steel and sheet metal shed serves as the basic
structure. Overlaid on this structure, layer two is simulated Olde Mexico: saltillo tile floors,
terra cotta roof tiles;  interior partitions of heavily stucco-textured drywall form a series of low
arches and walls, subdividing the completely unarticulated steel box into a series of casual
semi-open spaces suitable for semi-private dining. Niches holding a variety of Mexican
knick-nacks, oversized potted palms and rustic southwestern furniture complete this familiar
idiom.  So far, so good. Now here's where it gets weird: when the building was converted from a
restaurant into a dental office, the new proprietors didn't change the decor or the layout, opting to
cheerfully (and cheaply) overlay a third aesthetic, "the dental office", onto the existing
conglomerate, creating a dental office in a mexican hacienda in a steel box by the freeway!  The
rigid heirarchy of public waiting room vs. private examination room is broken down into
something more closely resembling a hair salon than a medical facility (perhaps a conscious
effect, given Castle's emphasis on cosmetic dentistry). In searching for a receptionist, one
wanders through the different dining areas, past people in dental chairs, some being worked on,
some waiting. Enameled beige and stainless dental equipment sits incongruously in what still
appears to be a dining room. A box of latex gloves sits in a niche next to a folky terra cotta
figurine.  A "must see" for twenty-first century interior designers.-B.D.

San Jacinto Monument

In the mddle of nowhere, the San Jacinto monument makes an ironic contrast with the forest of
industrial smokestacks and cracking towers with which it shares the swampy plain at the edge of
the ship channel.  Each is a monument to a different idea of Texas.  The monument is best viewed
from a distance: the embarassing politically incorrect text and run of the mill depression-era
historical reliefs which adorn the lower part of the tower fade from view. With its severe,
quasi-classical styling, sci-fi star,  and crumbly shell-riddled limestone the lonely, incongrous
monument seems like a leftover from the lost continent of Atlantis.-B.D.

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