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Arts / Museums

Houston’s Best Video Art

McDonald’s Horrors, Walmart Shoppers and Water Lillies

BY // 11.02.15

THE INSPIRATION FOR THE FATHER OF IMPRESSIONISM’S SUBLIME WATER LILIES AND ONE OF THE GUILTIEST PLEASURES FROM A FAST-FOOD BEHEMOTH ARE THE SUBJECTS OF VIDEO INSTALLATIONS THIS MONTH. THEY OCCUPY OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM: ONE IS ABOUT BEAUTY AND THE DIALOGUE ACROSS A CENTURY WITH A GIANT OF ART HISTORY; THE OTHER IS A GAME-CHANGING CRITIQUE OF ONE OF OUR LEADING CULTURAL EXPORTS, THE GOLDEN ARCHES. BOTH ARE MUST-SEES. IT’S SECOND CENTURY.

Cue first Mark Fox, a MoMA- and Whitney- collected artist known for his obsessive practice. His ever-shifting oeuvre can segue from minuscule collaged elements carefully cut out and applied to paper to evoke deep-space vistas to filming the antics of a spider nocturnally moving tiny paper drawings. During a three-month residency (August, September and October 2010) at Monet’s fabled Giverny, Fox (currently Brooklyn-based with a Manhattan studio) found inspiration at his footsteps.

The answer, it seems, was obvious: Why not film the source of the le Grand Impressionist’s most ambitious canvases, the water lilies that ushered in modern art? Without giving away too much, gaze upon the results of Fox’s camera dive into the shallow shoals of Giverny in an expansive multi-channel video, which makes its international debut at Hiram Butler Gallery.

Fox says of his latest work, “I always hope the viewer will just sit back and take lots of time to look … the resulting images are surprising in the way they reveal an aspect of the garden unknown (even the long-time Giverny gardeners were surprised by the footage) and [yet] oddly familiar in the ‘Impressionist’ atmosphere created by the light filtering through the water.”

In contrast to the utopian underwater idyll conjured by Fox stands Mexico City-based Yoshua Okón. His Walmart Shoppers video (2015) at Parque Galería stole the Texas Contemporary Art Fair in “The Other Mexico” Pavilion. Activism and a political stance are the messages channeled by his videos, and the viewer cannot look away. The Fulbright Scholar received his MFA from UCLA; during his time in L.A., one would surmise Okón became acquainted first-hand with the broad swath of U.S. consumer society and multinational corporations.

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After experiencing Okón’s Freedom Fries (2014), you may never order a fast-food meal again. The unlikely star in this video installation at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art is a plus-size customer of the McDonald’s franchise, who was filmed one night after closing at a Mexico City locale. Okón coaxed the overweight lady to pose semi-naked on a dining table for a sitting fee of $300; the viewer is mesmerized as mountains of flesh rise and fall with the subject’s each breath. Nearby, a close-up of recycled grease from a vat used to fry those famous French fries swirls around like a dark and deadly cyclone. For optimum effect, visit the entire installation at the Station.

Okón notes about his piece (which has the potential to prompt big change in the eating habits of anyone who sees it): “[In] Freedom Fries … the obese body becomes the evidence of a Neo-liberal system that promotes an idea of freedom based on disproportionate consumption and the continuous promotion of low self-esteem … the work points out the irony of how, in the name of freedom, we have become prisoners of our own bodies.”

Mark Fox’s “Giverny: Journey of an Unseen Garden,” at Hiram Butler Gallery, through November 28; Yoshua Okón in “Corpocracy,” at Station Museum of Contemporary Art, through February 14.

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