Tire Iron 11 May 3, 2001

Last Saturday I was in San Antonio, and here's what I saw:

Michelle Monseau's Fuzzbox show at Sala Diaz might have been better at night. Monseau arranges wisps and balls of brightly colored lint on the floor and walls, articulating them with spotlights and a moody rhythmic soundtrack. The intimate disco ambiance was overpowered by the bright sunlight coming through the windows when I visited. The plain light of day emphasized the straggling extension cords and clamp-lamp fixtures rather than the funky lighting effects they might have created.

Next stop was ArtPace. Julie Mehretu's paintings upstairs in the Hudson Showroom were head and shoulders above the three residents' works. I admire the honest work that goes into these pieces; despite her success, and what I assume is intense pressure to produce new work, even Mehretu's largest paintings don't seem skimpy or hurried. Mehretu builds colorful nests of graphic language drawn from weather maps, architectural plans, and outright doodling. Emptied of the literal content that makes maps and plans fascinating, Mehretu's marks are reduced to empty stylistic elements useful for making pretty pictures. Strongly reminiscent of Matthew Ritchie's baroque paintings, but without Ritchie's elaborate patter about his works' semi-coherent mythology, or their graffiti-referenced pretension of rawness. Mehretu's calm and elegant abstractions suffer from insecurity about the ability of an abstract mark to carry weight, taking refuge in pseudo-meaningful mapmaking when a simple line, dot, splatter or splash would do.

Shazia Sikander spent her residency producing a video version of one of her eastern/western mythological collages. Presented on a framed video monitor in a narrow hallway, across from an actual painting, the video painting mutates in real time, animated elements fading in and out, moving slowly side to side. Sikander's painting is diminished in translation to video: the primitive animation adds little to the work, the delicate Indian miniature-style hand painting which has always been Sikander's strong suit is lost, while the goofy Chagall-like exotica of her imagery remains.

Typically, I'd love an installation of cardboard boxes, newspapers, and grapefruit peels, but Rivane Neuenschwander's piece overloads these lighthearted throwaway materials with vague social/nature/culture/ science/language meanings, which takes the fun right out of them. An engaging knee-high maze of cardboard boxes on a newspaper-covered floor could be a cityscape, playpen, or bowling alley, but instead, they're an artistic statement. The de rigueur video installation that accompanies the piece is even less fun. I saw about twenty seconds of slow-motion footage of a giant soap bubble wobbling in the air, and left for lunch at El Mirador (722 S. St Mary's St, (210) 223-3885), the best Mexican restaurant in southeast Texas.

- Bill Davenport

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from
Houston, whose quirky objects have appeared
in many shows everywhere. Visit his website at


Respond to Tire Iron

Tire Iron #1: Lisa Ludwig & Karim Rashid
Tire Iron #2: Donald Lipski and Lawing Gallery
Tire Iron #3: Katy Heinlein and the CAM
Tire Iron #4: Sarah Nix Ginn and Navajo Blankets
Tire Iron #5: Al Souza and Pop art at the Menil
Tire Iron #6: John Pomara & Inman Gallery
Tire Iron #7: Colorforms at Lawndale Art Center
Tire Iron #8: Live Oak Friends Meeting House

Tire Iron #9: 2001 Core Fellow Exhibition at Glassell








Detail of Michelle Monseau's Fuzzbox
installation at Sala Diaz


Rivane Neuenschwander, Scrabble (Palavras Cruzadas)
2001, cardboard boxes, newspaper, peeled and
dehydrated grapefruit, electrical tape. Dimensions variable.


Julie Mehretu



Julie Mehretu (detail)






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