A R T   L E T T E R

The Timely Magazine of Art

#11 <previous/ next> Artletter index August 15, 1995

Helen Altman at Hiram Butler Gallery                           ends 9/2

Altman gives commonplace objects stunningly precise new metaphoric
meanings: turkey=egg=fetus, fridge=incubator=oven, quilt=display case,
millet=snow, eggs=seeds. Seed Trees I-III are like spruces in the snow,
resigned and weary, bearing up their burdens on thick trunks and heavy
crossed feet, offering up their seeds with a mother's generosity to the
birds in Winter. In Phoenix a small old fridge barely contains a frozen
turkey folded like a fetus or a very large egg, ready to emerge from the
flames of the oven reincarnated as a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. The
turkey awaits its rebirth through being eaten, literally fueling other
organisms with its own body. Snowman echoes the hot/cold theme of
Phoenix. Eggs of American Birds neatly links imagery (eggs) and form
(quilt), managing to suggest both cozy nest and freezer display case
simultaneously. Wire Bird is full of compressed energy (seeds), like a wire
popcorn popper ready to begin popping. The old fridge, campy fake firelogs,
and dated textbook illustrations evoke a sense of the recent past, perhaps
Altman's childhood in the 1960's.-B.D. 

Paine Webber Collection at the MFAH	9/?

Many good individual works amid the usual bombastic expressionism and
sterile appropriation of the 80's. In Ed Ruscha's The End obituary headlines
announce the absolute last frames of an old horror movie that we've seen
too many times (Life?, Art?). We are caught between frames, stuck here at
this neverending end in an eerie suspension of a decent, final closure.
Ruscha gets all this across with an elegant economy of means which is in
sharp contrast to works by Chia, Clemente, Borofsky, and others which say
nothing with a great deal of impotent flailing and thrashing. Warhol's
Cagney neatly undermines both painting and printmaking. Diebenkorn's Table
and Chair exactly recalls the feeling of 1964, using the figurative tradition
without nostalgia. Richter's kooky Helen has come unstuck from the family
photo album and wandered into  a monochrome field.-B.D.

Jim Pirtle Installation at Zocalo Theater	?

Damp polyester shirts hanging from the patio ceiling, with or without
paintings on them. Also damp polyester shirts made into clothing for an
assortment of broken figurative lamps, scattered about on tables and
elsewhere. Admirable for its edginess, if nothing else.-B.D.

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