Arts / Museums

Contemporary Artists and the Fight For Workers’ Rights Spotlighted In the Bayou City — Art League Houston Keeps It Current

Art That Will Make Your Summer a Little Cooler

BY // 07.06.23
photography Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston

Looking for thought-provoking contemporary art from up-and-coming artists? Art League Houston (ALH) may just have what you need with five stunning exhibitions on display this July.

Continuing Art League Houston’s dedication to showing works relevant to current dialogues in art, society, culture and politics, the exhibitions explore everything from climate justice to workers’ rights to the ambiguity of gender and desire. The range of artists represented is a compelling reflection of both Houston’s profound diversity and the ever-changing makeup of the contemporary art world. 

I’m Always Here For You by Thomas Tran at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)
I’m Always Here For You by Thomas Tran at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)

Before entering the building, visitors are greeted by the Sculpture Garden and Platform exhibition. Currently on display is “WE OUTSIDE WIDDIT,” a sculptural installation by Tyler Deauvea featuring recurring characters from the artist’s other work that brings his personal journeys to life. I’m Always Here For You, an acrylic painting by Thomas Tran, rounds out six Platform installations. 

Inside, the main gallery you’ll find “Tremble” by Ian Gerson, a queer and trans interdisciplinary artist and educator based in Houston. Nearly every sculptural piece in the exhibit is made from a variety of found materials, including scraps from mylar emergency blankets, personal clothing, construction netting, driftwood and dried palm fronds. The eclectic jumbled mix of materials gives the work the feel of being created for survival, of making something out of nothing.

Gerson’s work offers a second life to what might otherwise have been tossed aside and become more pollution, adding another layer to the exhibition’s focus on climate injustice.

The art is also deeply tied to the local community — not only is climate change a central threat to flood-prone Houston and nearby Galveston, but the woven tapestries utilize ropes culled directly from Galveston Bay and Houston Ship Channel. 

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"Tremble" by Ian Gerson at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)
“Tremble” by Ian Gerson at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)

“Tremble” also centers on trans-consciousness and queer longing. Intimately personal objects are woven into the hanging tapestries and sculptures: a lucky rabbit’s foot from the rodeo, the lock to an old childhood diary, a nightclub wristband. These almost unnoticeable details seem to represent the complexity of the trans and queer experience and the highly individualized journey such an experience requires. Gerson looks at the adaptability, resilience and non-conformity of the trans body as a model for surviving the climate crisis, creating a glittering exhibition that embodies intersectionality and social consciousness. 

The Hallway Gallery is occupied by “Amazonian Days,” a series of paintings from David Delgado. Paintings of seemingly-mundane objects, all set on bright orange backgrounds and an assortment of canvas sizes and shapes, dot a blue wall. The acrylic-paint renditions of a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, enamel pins and crinkled chip bags aren’t random. They are all references to objects Delgado was given while working at an Amazon warehouse and offered to workers as gifts to barter for labor hours and as random incentives. 

"Amazonian Days" by David Delgado at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)
“Amazonian Days” by David Delgado at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)

“Amazonian Days” offers a poignant lens into the nature of labor in today’s capitalist economy, sparking questions about fair compensation and the way workers are treated by corporations. With this exhibition, Delgado also references his family’s experiences with exploitative work when they first immigrated to the United States from Mexico, a story that is not unfamiliar to many in Houston. 

The paintings are accompanied by several watercolor works. The watercolors are hazier and more muted compared to the vibrant dimensionality of the acrylic paintings, and they feature moments and memories instead of objects. Coworker Sleeping (2023) shows a dark figure, slumped over the suggestion of a desk, representing the exhaustion and exploitation that workers likely faced in the warehouse.

Together, the works make for a playful yet potent exhibition about class, labor and capitalism in today’s fraught economic landscape. 

Finally, past the Hallway Gallery, the Front Gallery houses “Familiar” by Big Chicken & Baby Bird, aka Tsz Kam and Nat Power. This fantastical, stunning exhibition captures a sense of whimsy, tension and movement, facilitated by the artists’ use of bold colors and mythological creatures throughout.

Mantis (2023) features a winged horse, rearing above two ambiguous creatures with skeletal faces and surrounded by neon foliage. Lion and Chimera (2022) depicts a lion, reminiscent of the Chinese lion dancers that make an appearance at festivals and Lunar New Year celebrations, standing beside a chimera, a fire-breathing female monster straight from Greek mythology. 

"Familiar" by Big Chicken & Baby Bird at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)
“Familiar” by Big Chicken & Baby Bird at Art League Houston (Photo by Alex Barber, Courtesy of Art League Houston)

The ambiguity and maximal complexity of every piece speak to the theme of the exhibition: the tension between the known and unfamiliar, between seduction and repulsion, between girlhood and womanhood. The use of familiar animals such as lions, bulls and horses, set on lush natural backgrounds or against palace-like scenes, calls back to the folk practices of Hong Kong — a common thread in Tsz Kam’s work.

Yet the incorporation of mythological creatures adds the element of unfamiliarity, their oddity contrasting with the otherwise recognizable parts of the artwork. The creatures are both beautiful and unsettling, all rendered in incredible detail. 

Some pieces look like tapestries, while others almost come alive off the canvas with a distinct sense of movement and life. The work can be appreciated both for its intricacy and its ability to transport the viewer to another wondrous realm. “Familiar” is an exhibition that is hard to forget. 

These exhibitions are open to the public and free to view at Art League Houston through July 22. No tickets are required for entry. For more information, visit the Art League Houston website

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