There’s what you observe at first glance, and then there’s the hidden meanings behind an idea. As we continue to question everything around us, the art we observe should be examined more closely as well. February’s most fascinating exhibits are occasionally political, sometimes playful, and — in the case of one local gallery’s hard-earned five-year anniversary — certainly celebratory. Broaden your mind with four of February’s most intriguing shows.
“Wabi Sabi and the Flow,” Carl Block and Billy Ray Mangham at Webb Gallery
Opening reception: February 12, 4-7 pm
Exhibition dates: February 12-April 2
While Carl Block is known for his quirky face jugs inspired by the sculpting tradition brought to America by African slaves, his pottery is equally influenced by his love for Mexican culture. In his latest show of loopily colorful creations at Webb Gallery, the artist has expanded his focus to include ornate platters, kachina vessels, and monkey jugs in hyper-hued glazed terra-cotta.
Complementing those works, his friend Billy Ray Mangham is along for the ride showing eight of his favorite blues musicians rendered in realistically proportioned (over two feet!) stoneware sculptures.
“We’ve shown Carl’s work since 1987 and known of Billy’s for many years,” says gallery co-owner Julie Webb of the pairing. “A couple of years back, we went to (Billy’s) San Marcus studio and saw some life-sized busts, and we knew we wanted to do a show of his work and combine it with Carl. They share an aesthetic in art and living, and both are true Texas characters.”
Vibrant in both their practice and their approach to life, the two clearly derive as much joy from making their work as the observer does in viewing it. As the Webbs never have an opening that isn’t a proper party, Mariachi Quetzal will performing for the show’s debut night.
“How Did I End Up Here?” by Lucas Martell and “Accidental World: Party Island” by Gina S. Orlando at Circuit 12 Contemporary
Opening reception: February 18, 6-9 pm
Exhibition dates: February 18-March 18
Once the cool kid upstarts in the local art scene, Miami transplants Dustin and Gina Orlando are still cool, but just a little more seasoned. The duo is celebrating five years of success in the Design District — no mean feat when many other spaces have opened and closed in that same relatively short window of time.
“It’s a struggle sometimes, but nothing great happens overnight,” says Dustin of the space’s evolution, which included a relocation to a larger space on Monitor Street in the summer of 2015. “Our programming has evolved and the caliber of artists we’re working with is ever-growing. When we started, there were people we couldn’t get to, but now, because of the people we’ve worked with and our referrals from other artists, we can.”
Which is not to say they don’t have loyalty towards their talent. To celebrate the occasion, the “constantly flowing imagery” of Lucas Martell is on view, an artist who has been with them from the very beginning, along with video works from Gina Orlando, who has recently returned to her practice from years spent building the business alongside her husband. The gallery will also feature video mapping on its exterior from Michael Hathaway, plus the unveiling of a new mural inside the space’s shop, Primer, by Bradley Kerl.
As the Orlandos look to the next five years, they hope to expand on their focus of post-2000 contemporary art, keeping things as bright and bold and technically impressive as they have since the beginning.
Says Dustin, “[We show art] that’s edgy enough to be cool and have its own voice and identity in the scene without being overly conceptual to the point where only art nerds get it. It’s walking that line between what’s relevant and current while still being accessible and being able to be lived with.”
“Through Darkness to Light,” Jeanine Michna-Bales at Photographs Do Not Bend
Opening reception: February 18, 5-8 pm
Exhibition dates: February 18-April 15
Artist talk: March 4, 2 pm
For anyone who hasn’t yet read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, the National Book Award winner’s horrific yet uplifting story can serve as a source of inspiration or a cautionary tale. In perfect alignment with the emergence of this essential book, artist Jeanine Michna-Bales show at Photographs Do Not Bend is also required viewing.
The result of 12 years of research and over three years of work, Michna-Bales’ ambitious project captures many of the sites on the route an estimated 100,000 slaves took to freedom. Shot in the dark, the images conjure the panic and uncertainty these vistas would have incurred in their original viewers.
Intrigued by the subject matter as an Indiana teenager, Michna-Bales turned a visit to the Levi Coffin house (the so-called local “President of the Underground Railroad”) into a long-term occupation.
“I came up with the idea all those years ago,” the photographer recalls. “I’d been working on a personal project documenting walks I’d been in on during my life, and I think I was on that track of thinking about what things would look like as you were walking. The idea showed up on the page and wouldn’t let me go.”
Traveling through eight states at night, she took an image every 20 miles, the same amount of territory covered by the average runaway in a single evening. Michna-Bales also read slave narratives from the time to help her pinpoint sites and plantations where they stopped for food and shelter.
Michna-Bales says she captured vistas “from a first person viewpoint, so you could almost feel like you could step into the scenery,” with a goal of driving conversation around the images for their eventual viewers.
“The Underground Railroad was the first Civil Rights movement in America, and it did blend racial and socioeconomic and religious lines. I wanted to open up that dialogue with all these different groups of people. If we can talk about our shared past, we can find a better way to our future.”
“Outhouse Oracle,” Joshua Goode at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary
Architectural performance: February 18, 4-6 pm
Opening reception: February 18, 6-9 pm
Exhibition dates: February 18-March 11
Location, location, location is also a driving force behind the work of sculptor Joshua Goode. Manipulating history and mythology through the lens of his own childhood memories, Goode creates excavation sites that reference both their real spot on the map, as well as his true and imagined history.
Past projects have taken him everywhere from St. Petersburg to Shanghai, Cairo to Barcelona. For his latest show at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, he’s touching on the history of North Texas crossed with the Oracle in The Neverending Story, and unveiling a mammoth (no pun intended) work on-site with the help of students from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“Typically, when I’ve done these projects, I historically research the location I’m going to work with and play into the history that exists there,” Goode explains. “When I was in St. Petersburg this summer, my work had to do with Peter the Great, then I went to Barcelona and staged a discovery of an albino woolly mammoth balloon. All my pieces have an invented purpose that related to different ancient practices, and a lot are funerary practices.”
A sixth-generation Texan, the land he grew up on housed an old outhouse, which forms the basis for his 17-foot-tall uncovered piece. Other artifacts will live inside the galleries, including paper works and small sculptures with their own invented stories.
As a complete package, the show will help observers uncover the life of the artist in a way that helps reaffirm our shared pasts.
“I developed this whole narrative about how you discover something and dig it up — there’s this great history imbedded in it,” says Goode. “I’ve always felt it was very powerful to give that historical narrative to something.”